This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
And now, by way of supplementing the remarks I have previously made on the cultivation of the Hollyhock, I have to speak of it as a valuable floral agent in the decoration of shrubbery-borders. Let me describe how I myself use it as a decorative plant. I have a shrubbery-border planted principally with Laurels, and in front some nice bushes of Berberis aquifolium, which face the flower-beds in the large grass-plot here. It is 126 feet in length and 5 feet in width, and I plant it as a ribbon-border in the following manner: At the back Hollyhocks planted 4 feet apart, the colour arranged so as to secure the best effect when seen from any part of the garden. In front of the Hollyhocks a line of the yellow blooming Calceolaria viscosissima; then a line of Tom Thumb Scarlet Pelargonium; then a row of Purple King Verbena, and an edging of Cerastium tomen-tosum. As this border is of semicircular shape, it is not too much to say that I secure a kind of enduring floral rainbow; and the effect is extremely good, and the arrangement praised by all who have seen it.
1 have also here two very large circular beds, and the centre of each of these I fill with Hollyhocks, selecting and arranging the colours. These I plant the first week in March, using old plants that were potted up in the autumn. By putting the strongest plants in the centre of the bed, I get the tallest spikes there; and I allow each plant to carry three of the strongest shoots, which reach a height of from 6 to 7 feet. Hound these I place a band of weaker plants, which grow about 5 feet. Each of these also carries three shoots. As soon as the shoots are 1 foot in height, they are secured to a stake about 2 feet out of the ground when firmly driven into it; and this I find quite tall enough to keep the plants from being injured by the wind, and the stakes do not show themselves amid the flower-spikes. In one of the beds I place round the Hollyhocks Crystal Palace Scarlet Bedding Dahlia, and for an edging the Purple Zelinda Bedding Dahlia, which being of rather dwarfer growth, makes a good edging, as well as affords a good contrast to the former.
In the other bed I plant bedding Dahlia Alba multiflora instead of the Crystal Palace Scarlet, and edge as before with the Purple Zelinda. I cannot dispense with the last named, as, while it is singularly free of bloom, it gives a fine crimson-purple hue, much needed in the flower-garden. I have an impression that in small gardens even single plants of the Hollyhock placed here and there can be introduced with good effect. They serve to relieve the frequent flat appearance of these gardens, and they remain in bloom a considerable time.
Last summer I received an invitation from a brother amateur Hollyhock cultivator to call on him and see his Hollyhocks. These he had planted in a single row, and they were from 6 to 7 feet in height, with noble spikes of bloom, each plant having a single stem; and being of various hues of colour, they had been planted so as to secure as much harmony of colours as possible. In front of the Hollyhocks were two rows of the finest hybrids of Gladiolus Gandavensis, with a line of dwarf bedding plants in front; then a line of Calceolaria aurea floribimda, and an outer edging of Alyssum saxatile variegatum planted close to the box. I was very much pleased with the fine effect of this arrangement, and made a note of the composition of the border at the time as well worthy of being recorded. William Plester.
Elsenham Hall Gardens.