Thursday, February 4, 2010


During a trip to LA in the summer of 2008, I visited the Hollyhock House. What makes this visit so special to me is the souvenir I brought home: Hollyhock seeds from the Hollyhock house! This iconic piece of architecture sits perched atop Olive Hill in Hollywood. From this site, so aptly chosen for its views of the Los Angeles basin, you can see the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Hollyhock house for oil tycoon heiress, Aline Barnsdall. Hollyhocks were her favorite flower and Wright used stylized representations of them on architectural details and furnishings throughout the home. Completed in 1921, during Wright’s self-described ‘California Romanza’ period, Hollyhock House represents Wright’s first project in Los Angeles. The 36 acre parcel was originally envisioned as a theatrical community. However, because of artistic and budgetary differences between Barnsdall and Wright, only three structures were ever realized.

Today, only the main house and a secondary structure remain on 11 acres. The unkempt, sparse interiors and lackluster gardens left me wondering what had happened to the glorious house and grounds I had seen in countless architectural books. The only saving grace for me, were the Hollyhocks. The architectural stalks and backlit blooms of this incredible flower stood as a living witness to FLW’s inspiration. Amazingly, I found not only beautiful flowers, but also near bursting seed pods. I stuffed as many into my camera case and pockets as I could without looking too ‘obvious’. Never in my life had I wanted to grow Hollyhocks, but now I wanted to cultivate a multitude of them.

That was a year and a half ago. So what of my hollyhocks? Well, they were germinated over the winter of ‘08/‘09 in a greenhouse. I planted several of the beefier specimens in the skinny planting bed between my driveway and neighbor’s fence this past summer, here’s hoping they survived our record breaking cold winter. And the remaining seedlings currently reside in a greenhouse. 100 seeds became 18 seedlings, which have whittled away to 6. Since Hollyhocks are herbaceous biennials or short-lived perennials, I don’t have much time. If I could get just a few to bloom this year and hopefully go to seed, I would be beyond thrilled. Here’s to FLW’s brilliant marriage of architecture and horticulture.

For more information on the Hollyhock House, please visit their website.

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