The Amy Cogswell Garden at Webb Deane Stevens is rich in self sown flowers. Some have crept in from surrounding gardens and from acquired mulch but many are specified in the garden’s plan.
One of the reseeding plants specified by Amy Cogswell is hollyhocks (Alcea rosea). These plants are biennials, normally forming a rosette of leaves in year one and flowering in year two.
We could let nature disperse the hollyhock seeds in the garden, but in some years we choose to harvest the seed so that we can place them in specific locations in the garden and, disburse them well beyond the garden by giving seeds to the garden volunteers for their own gardens.
Hollyhock seeds are very interesting. Fertilized flowers give way to small green fruits often referred to as “cheeses”. This name comes about due to their resemblance to an old fashioned wheel of cheese. As the fruit matures the “cheeses” open from the top.
Inside each fruit is a ring of flat, disc shaped seeds each about a quarter of a inch in diameter.
When the fruit is mature the seeds slip easily from the covering leaving behind a six sided skin reminiscent of the six petals on the flower.
I harvest the seeds on a late summer afternoon, slipping them from their covering into a large paper bag. (A glass of wine helps the process move along smoothly).
Some I will scatter immediately in the garden in hope that a few seeds will germinate into small sturdy plants before winter and others will lie fallow until spring. Since this is the timing nature would follow it seems reasonable to do the same, however, just in case, I’ll keep some of the seed over the winter in my refrigerator (clearly marked so my husband, our family chef, won’t think it some unique seasoning) and scatter that seed in the garden in spring.
The hollyhocks we had at the garden this summer were yellow and deep pink.
The seeds from these plants can result in similar blooms but they may also result blooms of white or pale pink, bright red or plum. The delight of plants from self sown seed is this element of surprise.