Love Spreads: What Mom’s Hollyhocks Taught Me

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One small bag of seeds has turned into a way to spread color and love to friends and family around the country. All images: Lisa Tate

If you spend too much time on social media (and we pretty much all do these days), it is easy to ignore acts of kindness and focus on the negative.

Even a short while seeing all the online fighting and complaining, hurt, and heartache, it is easy to wonder, “where is the love?”

I have asked myself this question quite a bit lately until I realized in my world, a very visual example of love is in some backyard flowers.

These flowers are significant to me for two reasons, first being that I’m a hopeless flower killer. I have absolutely no horticulture skills at all and am envious of anyone who can keep a small window garden, much less a large, color-filled backyard array. Despite this, I have an ever-growing, ever-spreading horde of gorgeous hollyhocks. Some years just a few of them may grow for a few weeks, but other years they overtake the side garden with pink and white stalks growing as high as our house.

I call flowers these “Mom’s Hollyhocks,” which is the second and most important reason these are my reminder of how love spreads.

My mom died in 2007, just one week after being diagnosed (too late) with COPD. On the day she died, we brought our oldest daughter to my parents’ home for a visit. At that time she was five years old with no siblings. My mom, who did have a knack for gardening, had a small patch of tall hollyhocks in her plush garden that were dying off for the late summer. She handed my daughter a plastic ziplock bag and told her to pull all the dry-looking seed pods off and take them home. My daughter filled the quart-size container so full, we could barely get it closed.

When we returned home, I watered a blank, dusty area near a rocky pathway around our house, and I told my daughter we would dig some little ruts so she could plant the seeds. Before I could even finish this statement, she tossed the entire bag of seeds in a big clumpy row along the pathway.

Oh well, I thought, that’s the end of those.

That evening in mid-August my mom died. We forgot about the seeds until the next spring. I was in the backyard by the path pulling some nasty desert weeds, when I noticed several green sprouts coming out the ground. The hollyhocks had taken hold. We began to water and watch over them. By the end of May, they had reached at least seven feet tall with a long train of full blossoms on each one.

“Mom’s Hollyhocks” have been a part of our family’s landscape every year, spring through fall.

They have blossomed every year since then without fail. Some years are better than others, and during some milder falls, they even bloom a second time in October. Looking through our family photos, these flowers have become a prominent backdrop in our lives, covering spring to fall events from Easter to Halloween, birthdays to back-to-school. I’ve seen both my daughters grow taller and older near them.

Even without the aid of my subpar gardening skills, the natural elements, birds, and pets helped the seeds to spread and take root in different parts of our backyard, as well as our small front courtyard. As I write this, they are growing right in front of our back window, which is absolutely beautiful.

Mom’s little act of love, just before she left the world, is still with us and growing stronger. This alone would be enough to show how a little love can spread and continue, but we aren’t the only garden involved in this.

Starting a couple of years after my mom’s death, other people began to notice these flowers.  My cousin visiting from Southern California wanted a bag of seeds to remember her aunt by, and friends of mine from Oregon to East Texas and throughout our hometown have taken bags home to start their own gardens with Mom’s flowers.

Even a complete stranger driving by saw the flowers peeking over the top of our wall from the road, and stopped to ask to see them. Afterward, she left with her own bag of seeds.

This trend of flower sharing continued through this year’s “Zoom Meeting” world during the start of the pandemic, as one of my husband’s coworkers noticed the flowers in the background during a video meeting. We now have one full bag of future hollyhocks ready to take to her once everyone can get back to their lives.

I haven’t seen the results of all these distributions, but just knowing one bag has multiplied into many covering several miles is something I never would have expected.

These flowers came full circle recently when my father asked for some. After my mom died, he wasn’t as successful at keeping her garden going at first, and Mom’s original hollyhock plants died off. Once he learned more about what he was doing and began enjoying keeping his own garden, he wanted to replant some back home.

I felt like, by keeping these hollyhocks safe, I have, in a way kept my mom’s love for her grandchildren and family alive.  I was able to share that love with others in different parts of the country, and eventually let it return home to my dad.

When I need a reminder that love is out there, I need only look at those flowers.

Another bag of seeds waiting to become someone’s garden.

Love spreads. It might start out very small and unnoticed at first. We might even doubt if it will be effective.

Yet, if we’re patient, it will take hold when we least expect. It will grow and it will blossom. It will get noticed.

Most people might not say anything about it, but they will know it’s there, as the bigger and brighter something gets, the harder it is to ignore. Then, little by little, someone will want a part of it. Give them a little and they will carry it with them where they go. It might not take everywhere, and you may or may not see the results, but it is out there.

Sometimes you’ll get to see some of the results, and sometimes they will continue to spread it to others you might not ever know about.

Yes, there are times when things get dark, and it appears dead and dormant, but if you don’t forget about it, it will come back bigger and more beautiful than ever. Have patience, hope, and faith it is there.

Thank you, Mom, for allowing my daughter to plant that first seed. Love has to start somewhere, and in the case of these flowers, I am honored it started with us.

I know I am talking about just a few flowers. How can this sappy story possibly—in the “real world”—make a difference? I might not know if it ever does, but at least I shared it like my mother shared a bag of seeds.

If you’re looking for love in this world, find your seed and plant it. Then step back because you have no idea which direction it will head or how big it could grow.

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5 thoughts on “Love Spreads: What Mom’s Hollyhocks Taught Me

  1. Nice article. Some plants are tough enough to come back unexpectedly and it’s great you recognized them apart from weeds. You’d begun a great step towards great gardening by recognizing seedlings you want and managing the landscape so they can grow.

  2. Beautiful article. I’ve always admired your hollyhocks, and now I know their backstory. ♥️

    1. They continue to grow as my kids grow. Even though my youngest never met her grandmother, these flowers have been part of her entire life.

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