The Hollyhock Hotel

Hollyhock collection courtesy Jonathan Sheppard of Sheppard Seed Company, UK

Hollyhock season is nearly over as we enter the fall season. I have enjoyed immensely their soft beauty in my garden. They now bloom annually along the side fence, bringing charm, grace, and color to what used to be a long empty stretch of nothing of much interest. And what I find particularly enchanting about them are the pollinators who flit among them, beginning early in the morning. The bumblebees are always the earliest to arrive and the last to leave in the evening. If they leave. For there are always, happily, those who never bother to return to their hives or nests, but opt to simply spend the night tucked into the beauty and comfort of a bed of soft petals. Finding one of them curled safely around a yellow center is always an exquisite delight only to be found at the Hollyhock Hotel.

Sound asleep inside the Hollyhock Hotel

California carpenter bee

The mother loved them years ago;
Beside the fence they used to grow,
And though the garden changed each year
And certain blooms would disappear
To give their places in the ground
To something new that mother found,
Some pretty bloom or rosebush rare–
The hollyhocks were always there.

~Edgar Guest

California carpenter bee and honeybee at work

Red hollyhock from my garden…

Hollyhocks, as you most likely know, take time to cultivate, though they are easy enough to grow. Seeds that sprout will not flower the first year. But once established they will readily self-sow. I do not find them fussy, though I know not to water them if there is not time left in the daylight hours for their leaves to dry out, as they will rust. If you do find yours have developed rust (which will most likely appear on lower leaves first), cut those leaves off and get them off your property. I personally have the practice of looking at each stalk every morning, cherishing their beauty, and pulling off the leaves that have gone yellow. I then shower them at that early time of day so there is plenty of time for them to dry out in the sun. I am grateful that once established they will generously offer their beauty and charm for years to come.

Here’s another of mine along the redwood fence with the Neighbor’s Cat keeping me company.

And I will close this post with another special photo from Jonathan Sheppard, which I am using with his permission. So pretty! He is making it his mission to have hollyhocks acknowledged and protected in the UK. What a gift to gardeners.

I do hope you have tried hollyhocks in your garden and are enjoying them as much as we do!

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Blog and Book Notes: I must share that this post honors 12 years of posting on Plant Whatever Brings You Joy. Many thanks to my many longtime subscribers! I also want to thank the many folks who have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden and posted their loving reviews on Amazon. There are now three dozen and nearly every one is 5-star! How gratifying for me as an author that you love what I have written. Thank you!

The Timeless Magic of Itoh Peonies

tree peony, photo courtesy of Phillip Oliver

All gardeners love peonies and are usually familiar with the gorgeous tree peony, pictured above and the common herbacious peony, pictured below. I had a white herbacious peony planted next to my Grandmother’s grave in Utah, and have always been glad I made that choice.

Shirley Temple peony

Now, enter the itoh peony, fashioned in the late ’40s by a hobbyist breeder in Tokyo, Toichi Itoh, who successfully crossed the two I’ve just mentioned–the tree peony and the herbacious one we are more familiar with–after experimenting literally with thousands of attempts. And, sadly, he dies before seeing his creation come into blossom. (I’m going to imagine that he was, indeed, watching when it happened years later, and was profoundly pleased and moved.) Fortunately his widow was contacted by a peony lover in America, who secured a few from her and went on to be part of its development and dissemination. When the itoh became available to the public only the rich (or obsessed) could afford, as they cost up to a thousand dollars per plant.

Fortunately they have now been introduced to nurseries. So let me introduce you to the itoh peony which I myself just discovered in a local nursery in Mendocino County, called Whispering Winds. I was blown away by their beauty and had to share with all of you.

Itoh peonies grow up to a three feet high and three and a half feet wide.

Gardeners will be happy to hear that itoh peonies need not be staked as herbacious peonies need be, as their stems are stronger, having been crossed with the tree peony.

Are you swooning yet?

The itoh peony can yield up to 50 blossoms per season! That’s a lot of beauty to look forward to.

Landscapers in particular will be delighted they can reassure their clients that itoh peonies are deer resistant! They are also not fussy, and will do well in full sun with well drained soil. Also handy–costs have dropped and can be found for $50-100 per plant.

Also very good news that itoh peonies make good cut flowers! What a perfect gift for Mother’s Day!

Love and garden blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Dearest readers, I have begun doing podcast interviews again, and was just featured on Dr. Paula Joyce’s wonderful show “Uplift Your Life”. I was delighted to be a guest on her show and am pleased to be able to offer you the link to an MP3 of the interview which will enable you to listen by simply clicking here. I do hope you enjoy!

Oh, Happy Spring!


Worldwide, it would seem, we have patiently–or not so patiently–been awaiting a slow to emerge spring. I must confess to hoping and praying that spring would smile on me for my March birthday celebration, (and I did get my fondest wish!). Yet, while other gardeners were either frolicking in or grimacing over snow I could not complain, as, while waiting, I was once again blessed by being immersed in the splendor of the many camellias that grace this property. Their blossoming is one of my most prized annual treasures in this garden.

When it came to bringing them inside, ordinarily I have arranged them in various vases and placed them on tables and dressers throughout my home, which I have always very much enjoyed, as you might imagine.

But this year my dear friend, artist Eta, suggested I float them instead, which somehow had never occurred to me before. So I pulled out a couple of large bowls and began to play with this idea, excited by this perfect way of showcasing their beauty. Each week as new blossoms opened I found myself refreshing these bowls with red, pink and white gorgeousness, reminiscent of my delving into making flower mandalas, for, indeed, they served beautifully as a new form of mandala to appreciate and freshen and appreciate. And today I share with you to enjoy! I wish I knew the names of any of these camellias, but, alas, I do not. They have been here for decades and while I fertilize and occasionally prune back, though seldom, I simply stand in awe of their annual beauty with deep gratitude.

Last to bloom are these very charming large red ones. They always make me think of Mary Englebreit!

Lastly I share this one special camellia which was given center stage in this arrangement. It is one of the very few that carries the scent of a gardenia. It is so incredibly sweet. What a gift from this garden.

Are you enjoying the first blossoms in your garden? I do hope so!

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn XOXO

Book Notes: As authors are inclined to do now and again, this morning I googled the title of my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden and was both surprised and very pleased and grateful that someone had been inspired to create a quote meme for one of the lessons in my book, which I here include for you to enjoy. It was showcased on a site featuring quote memes of well known and well read authors, so I was very touched and humbled.

Additionally, UK’s Fupping included Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in their article on books to read when you are lonely. Thanks to them!
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