My love affair with sidalcea began only about two years ago, when I was given S. 'Elsie Heugh' by an HPS friend. Strangely, this is the only sidalcea that won’t grow for me, but before its demise, I acquired two more which did do well, and I was hooked.
Sidalcea is a genus of the botanical family Malvaceae and contains several species of flower known in the UK as prairie mallows. There are only 20 annual or short-lived perennial species in the wild, which are native to the western USA, where it is a common plant of the chaparral. There are, however, many modern hybrids now available.
The ancestral roots of the mallow were laid in water to produce a jelly like substance, and once 19th century confectioners added sweeteners the first ‘marshmallows’ were produced. Nowadays, gelatine is used instead.
Sidalcea resemble miniature hollyhocks, with clusters of upright stems bearing mallow-like flowers which usually last through July and August as secondary spikes open later below the main, terminal flower spike. Flowers come in shades of crimson, pink and white and the petals usually have an attractive silky sheen that adds to their beauty. The old flowers drop as they fade, giving the plants a clean, neat appearance. Cut back stems hard after flowering to encourage further flowers.
The leaves are rounded, divided, slightly lobed and similar to buttercup. The foliage is not affected by the rust that disfigures so many hollyhocks, nor do the plants freely self seed. The stems are strong and wiry, so do not need supporting. They grow best in full sun in moist, well-drained soil that is not wet in winter. The upright spikes team well with other summer flowers and create a useful contrast in shape. They are fully hardy.
From spring onwards, every 2 or 3 weeks, I water in a liquid feed such as Tomorite; this seems to keep them flowering for longer. Propagation is by division in spring - never autumn. They are tip-top for pollinators – bees and butterflies flock to them for their rich supply of nectar. With stem ends seared, they also make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers too.
In particularly dry summers they may die back, although this has never happened in my garden! However, they resurrect themselves when the wetter autumn weather comes. In the event of them drying out early in the season, cut back the dead/withered stems to the ground and give the plants a good soak.
The following sidalceas are those I have grown (excepting 'Oberon'); there are a few others but some can be very similar to those I have named. Please give one or two of the following a try if you haven’t already; I am sure you will be delighted.
S. 'Bianca' Taller than 'Candida' with pure white flowers. Ht. 1m.
S. 'Brilliant' Spikes of red flowers from June to August. Ht. 90cms.
S. 'Candida' Spikes of paper-thin white flowers in July and August. A pretty plant. Ht. 90cms.
S. 'Croftway Red' Prolific. Deep reddish/pink flowers. Ht. 80cms.
S. 'Elsie Heugh' AGM. Spikes of clear pink flowers with indented petals from June to August. Ht. 90cms.
S. 'Little Princess' Bushy and free-flowering, with pale pink flowers that fade a little as they age, and pink anthers. The shortest and most compact cultivar. Ht. 40cms.
S. 'Mrs Borrodaile' Darker than most cultivars, with deep, dusky rose-magenta flowers. Ht. 1m.
S. 'Oberon' Neat, compact with soft rose-pink flowers. Raised by Alan Bloom and introduced in 1963. Ht. 70cms.
S. 'Party Girl' Bright pink flowers with white centres and stamens. Ht. 75cms.
S. 'Rose Queen' Robust, well-branched spikes of dark rose-pink flowers from June to August. Ht. 90cms.
S. 'Sussex Beauty' Glowing, satin-pink flowers on robust plants. So vigorous in my garden that I have to divide nearly every year – but worth the effort. Ht. 90cms.
S. 'William Smith' AGM Spikes of salmon-pink flowers from June to August. Ht. 90-120cms.
First published in the South Pennine Group Newsletter Spring 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 33.
© Copyright for this article: Dorothy Harriman
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.