Hollyhock Days

Last week the Friday Night Dinner group went to DeVito's Restaurant and Trout Farm outside of Harrison, AR. We went to celebrate 3 birthdays, friends June, Mardi and mine. It's a beautiful spot, the restaurant overlooking a cave and spring-fed creek that's full of large trout. You can fish, for a fee, or simply dine in the quite beautiful restaurant. The DeVito family has owned it for 2 generations (it isn't  far from the Ozark Medieval Fortress I wrote about a few weeks back).

I had the country-style whole trout, which I must say was the best trout I've eaten since I was a teenager and ate my first fresh trout while in Colorado Springs. Often trout in restaurants tastes like fish food. DeVito's trout just tastes like fresh trout. The Dinner Group was so pleased that this week, when Barbara offered to take us out to celebrate Josh's birthday, I suggested Barbara, Josh, Adam and I meet our friends, Sarah and Neil, at DeVito's again. (Josh's birthday and mine are just 2 weeks apart, imagine, 2 geminiis living in the same house - it's often feels more like 4 people instead of just 2).

The reason I'm telling you this fish story is because of the hollyhocks just outside the restaurant. These are spectacular hollyhocks and in colors I have not seen quite like these anywhere before. The photos may not do them justice, but this is a collection of hollyhocks that have crossed back and forth between a dark red and a yellow parent and the offspring are various shades of rose, peach, pink, yellow and a truly beautiful blossom that is rose with a yellow throat. I think it's a spectacular range of colors.
I asked if this was a special blend or if there was a story about the flowers and the owner said he knew little about them other than they come up every year in that spot, in all the various colors. I also asked if he sprays his hollyhocks since they appeared to not have insect problems. He doesn't do anything, just lets them grow to be admired.

If you grow hollyhocks you likely remember there are hoards of tiny black insects that begin to eat on the hollyhock leaves in early spring. They start on the underneath sides of the lowest leaves and eat until that leaf is just a skeleton. The bugs move upward to the next leaf, eating that one, as well. Many times here, we barely get blooming out of our hollyhocks because of the destructive insect that saps the strength of the plants before it can bloom. I know some people use chemicals to kill the insects, but that also kills the bees and beneficial insects, as well. I use Sharon Lovejoy's great hollyhock spray.

Sharon Lovejoy, a long time good friend and author of Hollyhock Days (as well as a whole shovelful of other wonderful children's gardening books that also delight adults), lists this spray, which she passed on to me some years ago - it's also in her book. Mix together:  1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 Tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap, 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Mix well and spray the underneath sides of the hollyhock leaves, starting in early spring. Spray about every 10-14 days. It's safe, effective and you won't be killing bees, ladybugs or other beneficial insects. Her newest book is Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots, Gardening Together with Children. She has a wonderful blog, too and I highly recommend it. Her endearing writing and charming illustrations will make you a fan of Sharon's in mere seconds.

This week is a bid sad. We're getting ready to add a bathroom onto the house, which isn't a problem, but we also plan to add a small garage. Long ago when we designed the house, we made space for a drive-up back door, and to eventually add a garage with access without steps (we have lots of steps, we live on a slope, there's not much level in the Ozarks Mountains). But to build the garage it means tearing out the very first garden I built here, 30 years ago. It was first built to channel rain run-off away from the house, but over time it became a sort of meditation garden. There were pathways with lots of edible and decorative plants. It's where the black currants grew, and the tiger lilies from my mother's garden. It's where most of our spring tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinths lived and it had changed over the years from a sun garden to a shade garden. It was bordered by bamboo and had something blooming in just about every season. Unfortunately I have very few photos of the garden. I was so used to it being there, and it was hard to photograph from nearly all angles, I just didn't take pictures. What shows here is after a day of tree cutting and rock moving, only a shadow of what it was.

Adam has worked this week, moving as many plants as he can out of that "upper garden." Some plants had to be moved with a backhoe, like the clumps of currants, a large yellow rosebush and some native shrubby St. John's wort. Adam and Josh together moved about a ton of rock walls out of the way, and the backhoe has been busy removing 2 redbud trees and lots of soil. So tonight, as I write, the garden is all gone, a backhoe sits in its place. I'm sad about losing that garden, losing the rustic stone bench under the redbud tree, missing already the pathways and perennials and bulbs. But many have found a new home, some in the new lower garden area that Adam and I have worked on in the past 10 days. A new garden will spring forth again in another spot, and I expect a lot of bulbs will appear next year in places where piles of soil were dumped.

Adam, who was our intern in 2008 has been with us a month, helping get the garden in shape. He'll be off next week, heading to another garden project in Santa Fe, meeting up with his girlfriend for new adventures in gardening. It's always a pleasure when he comes to lend his creativity and excitement to our garden.

Happy gardening!


compost in my shoe said...

Hollyhocks are one of the first plants I remember growing from seed. as a kid they amazed me with the stalks and bloom size. Today they are still as amazing!

Kim said...

My husband and I are big DeVito's fans and I've noticed those hollyhocks too... beautiful. That place is a real natural and culinary treasure. I hope it stays around for many more generations of DeVitos!

the wild magnolia said...

The Hollyhocks are stunning. It is sad the little black bugs intrude to destroy the beauty.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Oh my gosh, my MUG on your blog? What were you thinking? But thanks for the kind words about my blog and books.

sending love to you and Josh,


Anonymous said...

Hi, I live in CA and I get these weird looking, grey/black bugs on my Hollyhocks every year.They are about 1mm long and about as wide as long and have a kind of transparent look. I sprayed them with pyrethrin and that knocked them back, but they damaged the plant. I've never seen them on any other plants in my garden. Any ideas? Thanks, Joann

Jim Long said...

Hi Anonymous,
Read the text here in the blog, the formula for the bugs you're asking about is here.

Jim Long said...

Anonymous, go this post, the formula is listed here: http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com/2010/06/hollyhock-days.html

Larry said...

My hollyhocks are dropping buds by the dozen. What is happening to them?