Following yesterday’s post, I thought it appropriate to feature another plant that came to my garden via Ellen Hornig of Seneca Hill Perennials.
It’s no secret really that I’m addicted to hollyhocks. I’ve fiddled with selecting and crossing them for over 10 years, starting when I was a mere boy gardener with absolutely no conscious clue of what I was doing other than selecting ‘the prettiest’ of the bunches I grew. But breeding hollyhocks is a lot like herding cats–what advances you do make inevitably veer off in some random direction away from the intended goal. I always chuckle when I come across a fellow plant breeder who breed hollyhocks (it’s happened exactly once). It’s kind of like running into a mirror and laughing at your own outfit (what the hell was I/he thinking?)
Anyway, Iliamna grandiflora, doesn’t really sound like a hollyhock if you’re used to hearing Alcea rosea roll off the tongue. But this North American genus of “wild hollyhocks” calls various parts of western North America home (with the exception of eastern disjunct populations of I. rivularis, which occur in Illinois and Virginia). Little is known about these species in cultivation and they are barely available commercially. Ellen was one of the only sources around when the genus came to my attention a few years ago. Now, I’m not sure who’s propagating them. If you can find one (a Google search turned up a fat ZERO nurseries listing it as of today), you’ll love it.
plant purple prose. I. grandiflora grows about three feet tall, sports white, typical hollyhock-esque flowers, and flowers almost non-stop from spring through summer. The best part (and why it’s of interest to a hollyhock breeder)–it’s resistant to hollyhock rust. I’m always hesitant to use the word ‘resistant’, but as near as I can tell, I’ve not spotted one damn pustule on it yet. This past summer was the worst for hollyhock rust in my garden ever. Even seedlings I previously had rated as exceptionally tolerant were obliterated by early July (and there goes the cat). Growing within feet of some of these seedlings, I. grandiflora has never shown signs of infection. Ladies and gentleman, that’s a plant worth talking about.
Though the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it’s my hope to bring this species and its gardenworthy congeners into broader distribution (eventually). They have a certain wildflower quality to them, in addition to looking all to familiar to everyday gardeners as “ye grandma’s ol’ hollyhocks.” Growing in my scree garden, they’re an exciting addition to my gardenscape, even if they’re like little chocolate candies that nobody else can have (for now).