Plant of the Week: Alcea rosea

As we English GPs drive down dreary town streets on warm afternoons, our hearts are suddenly lifted by the sight of tall waving mallow flowers in a wonderful variety of soft and dark colours: hollyhocks. The very best are often weeds, sprouting happily between paving stones or at the foot of some neglected wall.

They come from the drier parts of Asia, but despite the British climate they have become established as common cottage garden plants since the sixteenth century and have naturalised themselves all over the world. They do hate damp, however, and become covered in rust at the least provocation. This summer the provocation has been extreme, as so as a consequence is the rust on our own few struggling examples. In ideal conditions of extreme neglect, however, they are marvellously tough and virtually perennial. Thanks to clay soil, slugs and weather, ours are mostly annual.