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Cleome, French Hollyhock: Tried, True Summer Blooms
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Cleome and the French Hollyhock are dazzling old cottage garden type plants that anyone would love to have in their yard at this time of year.
Both reseed easily thereby giving perennial plant performance. In some places, the French Hollyhock is really perennial.
The cleome is commonly called skunk weed because of a musty odor when brushed against. Because of its unique, exotic bloom, it also has been called the spider flower. Culinary experts might like to know that the cleome is in the caper family.
The cleome is from South America and has been around for a long time, mostly in shades of pink and white. The Queen series changed that, and we now have glorious shades of cherry, violet and rose, too.
The cleome is a tall growing plant reaching 3 to 4 feet tall, making it ideal for the middle or back of the border. One of the prettiest displays I have seen had the violet Queen cleome with violet salvia as an intermediate plant with two-toned violet petunias planted in the front.
The cleome is a long-blooming flower, and performs for months with a little deadheading. I have seen awesome flower arrangements using the cleome and the yucky foliage odor was non-existent.
The minus, or plus depending on your outlook on life, is that the cleome forms pods loaded with easy to germinate seeds. Next season, you will have a bunch of seedlings to either pull, hoe, thin or transplant.
The French Hollyhock is not your typical hollyhock. The flowers are much smaller and are a light mauve with purple stripes. It was much admired in the garden of Thomas Jefferson and is found growing in the prettiest of Mississippi's cottage gardens.
The French Hollyhock is one of those plants that give horticulturists absolute fits in keeping track of it through the great boardroom decisions of taxonomic nomenclature.
For instance, I was taught that the French Hollyhock was botanically speaking, althea zabrina. It has also been known as althea rosea zebrina, alcea zebrina and alcea rosea zebrina. Now, I think it has found itself at home under the name malva sylvestris var Zebrina.
The main point I want to make is that you need to get some. French Hollyhock looks as natural against a white picket fence as a palm tree in Florida. These plants are ideally suited to the middle or back of the border and reach about 4 feet in height.
They scream to be planted in an old-fashioned garden with antique roses, larkspurs, daisies and verbenas. They prefer well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight.
Although it is not as common as it should be, I have found French Hollyhock for sale every year since moving to Mississippi. I have grown it, and it returns occasionally. Regardless, it does reseed and the welcomed seedlings are first noticed in the spring. I have given these seedlings away, and without fail, every novice and seasoned gardener falls for this plant.
These are just a couple of a big list of annuals that come back yearly to give a perennial-like performance and an abundance of plants to give away or start new beds.