August 31, 2012
Beyond the grape arbor and to the south of the greenhouse resides Tasha’s hollyhock bank. Its proximity to the herb circle subtly unites it with the rest of the garden, but by late July when much of the color in the garden has faded it is the focal point, for the hollyhocks are in full bloom. Ranging from pure white to varying shades of pink and yellow, the hollyhocks are a wonderful presence, particularly very late in the afternoon when the sun sets beyond the field and for a moment casts its light across the entire garden.
Tasha’s old fashioned hollyhocks originated from an ancestor of hers who lived in Nahant. Where they came from prior to that is not known. Tasha was fond of her hollyhocks due not only to the connection with her past, but for their unusual longevity and resistance to rust. Typically hollyhocks are biennial, and tend not to cope gracefully with rust, puccinia malvacearum. Tasha did not rely solely on the merits of her hollyhocks, but diligently removed infected leaves, mulched around them to prevent rain from unduly spreading any fungus, cut back and removed from her garden all stems and leaves in autumn, and generally took good care of each plant. She also collected the most promising seeds and stored them for future use. It was not unusual to see little terra cotta pots in the spring sitting on the bench of her greenhouse, labeled and sprouting hollyhocks.
Despite all Tasha shared about her garden, and despite all other people learned about it in an effort to preserve its historical and cultural significance, it seems to long for her presence now and then, and to fade slightly at moments when she does not come out with her shovel and cheer to spend the day among the plants. The hollyhocks, once so numerous, diminished from hundreds to dozens several years ago. The hollyhock bank turned to lupine. This spring several hundred hollyhocks were started from original seeds, and they have grown well. In addition to replenishing the hollyhock bank, eighty plants took up residence in grow beds south of the vegetable gardens. While hollyhocks do not bloom their first year, their green leaves are hopeful, and next year should be spectacular.