≡ Menu

Hollyhocks (Alcea spp.) Part 3: Hollyhocks in Victorian England

img_3746.jpg

Chater’s ‘Peaches ‘n’ Dreams’ hollyhock

It’s too bad that the developer of this hollyhock seems to be veiled in obscurity.

William Chater (1802-1885) owned a nursery in Saffron Walden (a famous district for growing herbs, including, as you might guess, saffron). His specialty was hollyhocks , and he developed many which are still in cultivation. Probably the most popular is Peaches ‘n’ Dreams.

I feel sure that the ubiquitous “ ‘n’ “ was not around in the 1800s, and that this name is a later version of the one Chater used. At least I devoutly hope so. (I am past the age for illusions, and yet I still dream of a more beautiful time, at least as far as language goes.) But I’m willing to forgive that “ ‘n’ “, because Peaches ‘n’ Dreams is a pleasure from the time it opens its buds.

img_9409.jpg

It has infinite variations of color which change from flower to flower and day to day—from deep-rosy-pink-streaked to the palest yellow.

img_9848.jpg

img_9857.jpg

Both these flowers are from the same plant. I’d actually never seen Peaches ‘n’ Dreams get as deeply pink as it did this summer, and I don’t know if that’s because I planted it in a place with more sun, or the smoke from wildfires affected it in some way, or if it just felt like it. In any case, it has also had variations in previous years and in less sun.

img_3760.jpg

One thing this gorgeous flower is not, unfortunately, is good in the vase. At least not always.

Although Gardening Tips claims it can be used as a cut flower, when I cut a stem this year, the leaves started drooping within an hour of being in the vase. By the end of a day, the flowers had that transclucent crepey look that signifies death. A few years ago, though, I had a pitcher of Peaches ‘n’ Dreams that lasted for at least a few days. If there’s some special technique to using hollyhocks in the vase, I’d love to hear about it.

Whether or not I do, I’m going to keep on growing hollyhocks for the way they dress up my garden and feed my soul.

In fact, next year, I plan to grow more Chater’s hollyhocks. If you live in an area prone to strong winds, you may be glad to know that these varieties are said to stand up to wind better than other varieties. But I myself would grown them just for their bursting-full exuberance. In my all-but-futile search for more info on their developer, I found listings of several Chater varieties, including Double Maroon, Double Chestnut (a brown flower), Double Purple, Double Violet (this may or may not be the same as Double Purple), Double Scarlet, and Double White. I hope sometime I will find out more about the man who worked to breed them.

Hollyhocks were hugely popular in England in the early 19th century, and became a florist’s flower (in those days, a florist was someone who cultivated flowers, not someone in a shop who sold them). Florists of the day vied for breeding varieties of color and form; hollyhocks and dahlias were rivals in variety.

Unfortunately, hollyhock rust, first mentioned in about 1873, made its appearance, and growers became less thrilled with hollyhocks.

Except for William Chater, who is reported to have been growing an acre of hollyhocks at his nursery in Saffron Walden. That must have been a fine sight.

It’s logical that Chater was concentrating on very full double flowers. If you’ve ever seen photographs of Victorian parlors, where tartan and embroidered cushions are piled on patterned sofas in front of vivid wallpaper with thickly hung pictures, surrounded by bibelots on top of tchotchkes, you will understand that a flower which is packed as full as it can possibly go was a part of the aesthetic of the age.

Peaches ‘n’ Dreams by kerosene lamplight, as it might have been seen in a Victorian parlor. Or kitchen.

img_3991.jpg

Victorians loved flower symbolism; entire books were published on the subject. There were also books on flowers that appeared in Shakespeare, and similar poetic settings of flowers. Hollyhocks symbolized ambition and fecundity. It’s certainly easy to see that a double hollyhock (and their bursting seedpods) could illustrate them.

Next post: a return to simplicity, with a focus on hollyhocks in the garden.

References:

Zoe at Garden Hopping

Gardening Tips

Loghouse Plants

Morrison Home and Garden

J.L Hudson Rare Seed Supplement #2008-A

Thompson & Morgan

Mrs. C. F. Leyel, Officier de l’Academie Francaise, Fellow of the Royal Institute, Elixirs of Life, first pub. 1948 Faber and Faber London. pb reprint 1987

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Bond August 24, 2008, 3:53 pm

    What a stunning hollyhock bloom! I’ve never seen anything like that. Beautiful.

  • Pomona Belvedere August 25, 2008, 2:41 pm

    They are amazing, aren’t they? You can see why I want to grow more Chater’s hollyhocks next year.

  • Barbee' August 25, 2008, 8:38 pm

    That first photo of Peaches n’ Cream is heart meltingly (is that a word?) beautiful. I have enjoyed your excellent series very much. These are one of my favorite flowers. Thank you for writing it up and showing us your lovelies.

  • Zoë August 26, 2008, 2:23 am

    They are stunning, and I especially like your first photo; like a ballerina’s Tutu from Swan Lake.

    In the UK they are common cottage garden plants and can be seen in gardens everywhere. Archetypal ‘Chocolate Box’ plants, grown against cottage walls and boundaries.

  • Pomona Belvedere August 27, 2008, 10:15 pm

    Barbee, I’m happy to hear that a gardener of your caliber is enjoying this series.

    Zoe, I think the U.S. has a lot to learn about common cottage garden plants–wish hollyhocks were as common here (though you do see them springing up in odd places).

    Glad you both liked the first photo–it felt to me as if I’d really captured the way this flower is in that one, gratifying to know it has the same effect on others!

  • koby November 15, 2016, 9:38 pm

    I WONDER IF IS THERE AN ORANGE /APRICOT HOLLYHOCK….

Leave a Comment