For as long as I can remember, they have been the irresistible bridesmaids of summer.
Often they are gathered in circles or are nodding at attention in gardens, wayside ditches and along brick walls. Their friendly columns sway with petals ablaze and are marked with large textured scalloped leaves. Snuggled close on the rising stalks and circular greenery are little wooly turbans that shelter the prized seeds of the summer hollyhock.
Their common name comes from "holy" plus hoc, "mallow." It may have been "holy" because they were brought back to Britain by the Crusaders, and it was possibly called "hock leaf" because it was used to reduce swelling in horses' hocks. However, they have been grown and used for so long that it is hard to be sure of the origins of their name. In fact, herbs found in the 50,000-year-old grave of a Neanderthal man included the remains of hollyhocks.
My introduction to hollyhocks came from my dad. His mother, Bertha Repnow, grew lovely hollyhocks and attended to them like her children. Each summer her home in Turtle Lake featured stalks of hollyhocks, and their bright chamber hats in a variety of colors were a welcoming sign to all passers-by.
Hollyhocks were greatly increased around our home after the passing of my grandma Repnow in 1964. Perhaps it was because my dad was close to his mother, and in some way they were not only a reminder of her, but also a comfort. Seeds were scattered thickly in front of our laundromat, and they bloomed every summer like a steady friend.
It is now a treasured memory recalling my dad in his blue striped overalls scratching his plot of land with a hoe, sowing his own personal history.
Never a summer passed that my dad did not make reference to the hollyhocks and his mother. These hardy staunch perennials have reappeared year after year without cultivating and great care. They seem to need only the sun with wind and air of trust and love. They are always there, like the memories of my grandmother.
Recently as I was driving around some of the deeply flood-ravaged areas of Minot, a smile came to my face. Out of the forlorn rubble were blooming several beautiful hollyhocks in shades of deep rose - many in places where they had not previously been. Their stance not only gave me a smile but their color was a picture of incredible beauty.
Maybe Minot should have the hollyhock as its official city flower - after all, it is a perennial on which hearts can be enlightened.
Perhaps the very best display of hollyhocks I have ever seen in Minot was at the home of my aunt and uncle, Doris and Burnell Repnow, on North Hill. We were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary and the lot east of their home was a riotous display of shell pink, rosy red, deep pink, angelic white and dark plum hollyhocks. It was like a forest!
Many people stopped to admire them and several took the time to be photographed in them. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was my grandmother's way of saying, "Hello and I am happy for all of you today." Grandma had certainly planted the seed in Burnell to be a gardener as well.
Part of enjoying hollyhocks is spreading their beauty. This comes in the fall when the little green wooly turbans burst and expose their treasure chest of seeds. As a child, each fall I would take an ice cream pail full of seeds and ride my blue bike north of our home on the slough road and scatter seeds all along the ditches.
Just the other day we were driving along in the car. Lydia noticed a ditch full of hollyhocks, and Jan smiled and said, "Lydia, that is the handy work of your daddy!"
This moment also brought to surface the many delights Jan shared with hollyhocks and her grandma Lydia Johnson of Williston.
Grandma Lydia's hollyhocks bloomed on the south side of her farm home. She and Jan fashioned many hollyhock dolls and proudly displayed them in water-filled sauce dishes resembling bridesmaids in a row. You really have not lived until you have made a hollyhock doll or until you have seen a dainty hummingbird darting from "Hollyhock Inn to Hollyhock Inn." It is even better than having a cell phone!
One of the best dress shops for hollyhock dolls used to be the east side of Evander's Drug store in Underwood. They bloomed along the copper colored brick wall in shades from lemon yellow to deep, deep purple.
The simple hollyhock is well-respected in England. Several years ago while traveling there, I had the enjoyment of attending a fine flower show.
At the show were two well-tailored men in herringbone vests admiring a deep salmon-colored hollyhock. I inched closer to them and heard that real gardeners call the hollyhock by her botanical name - Alcea. It stirred my soul - just like the hollyhocks of my grandmother, and now most recently the hollyhocks that are blooming south of University Avenue here in recovering Minot.
I share a recipe that I enjoyed after a bike ride of scattering hollyhock seeds. It is from my mother's recipe box.
2-3 cups dried apricots
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts
2 eggs well beaten
1 cup brown sugar
Rinse the apricots. Cover with water and boil, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain off liquid.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter, sugar and flour together until crumbly. Pat in bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square pan. Bake 20 minutes
While this is baking, beat eggs well. Add vanilla to egg mixture. Mix in chopped apricots and nuts. Spread over baked layer and bake again 30 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while still warm.
Cut into squares.