Is this the Unmitigated England Garden Flower? Or should it be old roses round bargeboarded porches, foxgloves towering against tarred sheds or dandelions cheekily poking up out of greenhouse brick floors? Mmm, tough call. But I must admit I do look out with expectancy for the first sproutings of hollyhocks in the garden, much as I do the first swallows preening on the phone wires outside the upstairs windows. Alcea rosea, as the Latin has it, is the staple of cottage gardens. As much at home in domesticity as on railway embankments, these are the English chocolate box cliche flower, the essential leitmotif of a Helen Allingham watercolour. But Richard Mabey in his Flora Britannica also quotes an observer in Pulborough who saw hollyhocks growing out of an old grounded boat in a local creek that rose and sank with the tide, the flowers disappearing under water to reappear later. I wish I'd seen that.
7 hours ago