I am often asked by visitors to the garden during the months of July and August whether I like Hollyhocks. Like is not nearly a strong enough word. The Hollyhock is far and away the most important plant to the fabric of the garden, especially the walled garden at Charleston. By accident and design, a wonderful community of tones and colours have emerged during the last thirty years.
Where such a varied community have come from remains somewhat a mystery, but can it be a complete coincidence that an equally varied collection of single flowered Hollyhocks also line the long pathway as one approaches Berwick church? There is hardly a single one of the many letters that Vanessa Bell wrote in which she describes the summer garden, where the Hollyhock is not mentioned, and it appears often in her paintings of the garden.
It reigns supreme at the moment, carrying its varied colours high above ones head, providing a strong element of elevated structure, complementing other more rounded elements. Then we come to its importance to bees, especially the bumble bee. All the Hollyhocks in the garden are of the single flowered variety, making themselves far more accessible for bees to access the abundant pollen. I have noticed that with the wind battering the garden in recent days, it has not been unusual to see the odd bumble bee clinging to the centre of the large open flowers as the tall stems flail about. Food and sanctuary. No other plant in the summer garden offers such an agreeable haven.
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