I’ve never stopped loving hollyhocks. With foxgloves and sunflowers, they are the mainstay of a happy ‘comfort’ garden. My comfort garden. Yet, look around: there are no hollyhocks anywhere in my slice of paradise. I cannot understand why. Did I get too cool for them? Was I rejecting my past? Have I forgotten my way? No, no and, no. Nothing so deep or intriguing. It just came to be so.
But look at gardens everywhere. So very few have these jolly flowers anymore. Unlike the much maligned gladiolus, they did not ever fall out of favor. In fact, ever so often, new and improved hollyhocks have been introduced. In stylish new colors. Longer lasting. Taller or shorter varieties. And still, they are not observed in abundance. I’m perplexed.
Curiously, almost all of us recall hollyhocks from our childhood. There are invariably nostalgic associations with this flower. I do believe that like comfort foods, there are comfort plants. Certain flowers, trees or even seed pods give us that same sense of solace as the foods do.
Just like the foods ( think mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese, rice with butter, hot cocoa), comfort plants hark back to our childhoods. To simpler, innocent, carefree times. One connects the flowers with cherished people like a favorite grandparent, an aunt who never talked down to you, a loving parent. Chances are they grew those plants in their gardens.
Thankfully, unlike the consoling foods which are often no longer considered healthy in large quantities, comfort plants can be grown in abundance. So why aren’t we doing just that? As trends come and go, we are led to consider other plants. Tastes change and we choose flowers that reflect who we are at that point. Depending on the style of the garden, specific selections are made. Similar to clothing, there are the dictates of fashion that guide us in the garden. One outgrows so many things so why not flowers?
I used to have hollyhocks in my garden till I fine-tuned it. It began to have a style, a real design, a philosophy of sorts. Not that hollyhocks ever contradicted any of these. They simply got left behind.
The same happened to cleomes which I’ve also rediscovered with joy akin to a child who has come upon a favorite stuffed animal from babyhood sitting in a corner of the attic.
I’ve come to the conclusion, that no matter what sort of garden one has, some if not all of one’s comfort plants should be included. If they cannot be integrated in the main design style of the garden, then perhaps a small section can be commandeered somewhere to offer a daily reminder of those treasured memories. For myself, I’m going to replant cleomes, hollyhocks, nasturtiums and giant sunflowers. The foxgloves and lilacs are already present. Sophisticated and chic they may not be but then, neither am I.
My watercolors of the flowers:
(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar