ROBUST, UNFUSSY hollyhocks tolerate almost any well-drained soil as long as they get plenty of sun. Some varieties grow best in cool-summer areas, and they appreciate shelter from prevailing winds. Once established, they're quite drought-tolerant, but wet winters or any standing water may kill them; give them the best drainage possible.
Plant hollyhocks in groups of 8 to 12, setting them about two feet apart. They will grow into a stunning solid mass, making a dramatic vertical statement on a grand scale. Many gardeners like the effect of single colors in a group. To orchestrate this, buy seeds of single colors and grow them apart.
Traditionally, hollyhocks are grown up against a building or fence. In her home garden, Marilyn Barlow of Connecticut's Select Seeds, boasts a riotous stand of red, cherry, yellow, and pink singles growing near an old shed covered with orange trumpet vine. “Once, I grew them by the back door, but huge, fat bumblebees came tumbling into the kitchen,” she explains.
Set off hollyhocks with a froth of baby's-breath, clumps of daisies or black-eyed Susans, phlox, lilies, or sweet Williams. Include a few chrysanthemums to keep them company as summer turns to fall. In some old-fashioned gardens, dahlias were often grown in front of hollyhocks to hide their “shins.” Shorter annual hollyhocks are wonderful combined with climbing roses near a door or trellis, adding their jewel-bright tones to the splash of color.
Tall spires of hollyhocks are breathtaking as cut flowers, and in a mixed bouquet, it's easy to remove any scarred or damaged leaves. Arrange them with bellflowers, phlox, baby's-breath, and roses for a cottage-garden-in-a-vase.