I have a beautiful cutting garden. It runs about 100 feet long and about 3 feet deep next to a chain link fence in my alley. It is the only place where I get enough sunshine and ready irrigation to plant the gorgeous mix of roses, old-fashioned perennials, and annual cutting flowers I love. Spring 2 years ago I planted six old-fashioned hollyhocks. I love the vision of tall stakes of flowers so classic from the days of yore. (Yore?) This is what hollyhocks are supposed to look like:
These pics are not from my garden. My stubborn hollyhocks sulked in their beds for an entire year and another year after that producing in year 2 some large leaves that immediately became host to leaf miners; a cowardly little larva of an evil moth that actually tunnels into the leaf thus resisting insecticides which I don’t use and hiding from natural predators which I do count on. These nasty little worms eat away on the inside of the leaf leaving a crazy labyrinthine channel that look like this:
But the plants were otherwise pretty healthy and did grow to about 18″ tall so I left them over the winter to do what they were going to do. This spring the plants sprang up to about 5′ tall as my attention-deficit dog, Buck, is attesting to and actually look like they will fulfill their promise this year. The buds have yet to open but they are formed.
So I have been watching them very closely and now see a scabby reddish gunk on the bottom-most leaves that is either scale or rust or some fungal infection, I think.
Now I am scrupulous about mulch and watering practices in this bed because of my roses and further deter fungal attacks with a monthly spray of baking soda as a fungicide. Even so this is what my hollyhocks look like:
In addition they seem to be on the menu for every leaf eating varmint in this area. I have yet to do anything about these problems until I have researched exactly what I am dealing with and until and if these wimps ever bloom. I may be so enchanted with the actual blooms that these will be a must every year.
But I doubt it. My garden is no place for shrinking violets. I am as attentive as the next gardener but if a plant is not tough enough to withstand the annual hell-worthy hot Texas summers, the occasional ice storm in the winters, and be resistant to the bugs and thugs of the garden, out it goes to make room for a hardier, more robust replacement. When I first started the gardens years ago, I was happy to have any cutting of anything from any generous gardener or any half-dead plant marked for clearance. Anything to fill the sad empty spaces in my beds. But not any more. Space is at a premium now and I have gotten over my reticence to pull a plant out of the ground while it is still on its last leg. My “2+” rule is in full effect.
I have discussed my “2+” rating system before but in a nutshell, it means that in order to qualify for a trial in my gardens, a plant must have two of the qualities I am looking for: drought-tolerance + long blooming season, shade tolerant + large blooms, etc. In addition the plant must then have one additional attribute to qualify; like heavenly fragrance, stunning foliage, or something along those lines. And finally, it must survive without a truckload or insecticides, artificial fertilizers, and rivers of irrigation (except for my hydrangeas, but that is another story)
So unless these wimpy little whey-faced princesses can rally and demonstrate something spectacular this season, their days are numbered. I may sound bitter but have you seen the rust picture? Eww and this after 3 years. 3 YEARS! I’ll keep you posted.
Ruthless Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!