For $2, you can buy a package of seeds for Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina,' also called miniature hollyhock or French hollyhock, from garden centers or seed catalogs.
For 2 cents, I will give you all you want. Better yet, I will pay you to take them. They are everywhere.
I fell in love with this plant years ago when I saw them growing beside a relative's house. She didn't know what they were, only that they came back every year and seemed to grow into an adequate sized shrubby plant. I was attracted to the lovely mauve flowers with purple streaks that resembled tiny hollyhocks. I didn't know what it was either, but I perused my garden books and seed catalogs until I found it.
I have been partial to hollyhocks since I was a little girl and learned to make dolls using a bobby-pin, the papery hollyhock blossoms and the unopened flower buds from my grandmother's extensive hollyhock patch.
Although it is claimed to be an heirloom plant used in Victorian cottage gardens, Zebrina wasn't in my grandmother's garden, and I doubt my grandmother had ever heard of the plant. Not a true hollyhock, Zebrina is a distant cousin from the same family, Malvaceae, which also includes hibiscus and Rose of Sharon. You may notice that the flowers are all very similar.
While hollyhocks are biennial, which means they grow leaves the first year and flower the second before setting seed and dying (people often think they are perennial plants because they are prolific reseeders and seem to come back every year), Zebrina is a perennial. Like their cousins, they also are prolific reseeders and not only that, they are adored by butterflies and hummingbirds. I couldn't wait to add them to my garden.
I bought a few plants from herb farms and garden centers and placed them here and there in the garden. They bloomed the second year and continued to come up each year in the same spot. When I lost a plant due to extreme weather or just because its time was up, I quickly replaced it.
Then one year I visited a friend's garden who also had Zebrina patches every few feet or so.
''You'll never get rid of them,'' he said. ''They are weeds.''
I couldn't believe my ears. My beloved Zebrina, a weed?
But then I began to see something taking place in my garden that I didn't notice before. Zebrina started showing up in places I didn't put it. Mauve and purple flowers were popping up beside yellow roses and orange daylilies. Right in the center of a low-growing patch of Feverfew were a few gangly stalks with a sparse spattering of those familiar blossoms. I found myself pulling out the very same plants I worked so hard to accumulate.
Surprisingly, I still loved the plant. Whenever I saw the flowers opening along the stems, it made me smile. They really are attractive little gems and blend in well with nearly all color combinations, even orange. But that doesn't mean I want them everywhere.
This time of year, of course, like most of the garden, Zebrina is resting. There is some evidence of the mallow-like leaves still lying among the fallen garden stalks that missed the fall cleaning. Next year, I will have to make the difficult decision of which plants to cull and which to leave alone. But after years of growing Zebrina, I did learn that the best plants are the youngest plants.
Newly planted Zebrina grows about 20 to 40 inches tall and forms a well-behaved bush-like plant. After a couple years, however, the plant starts to get spindly and the flowers don't cover the plant as well, often blooming hit and miss along the stems. Because of this, I would rather start new plants from seed every two or three years and pull out the old leggy plants left behind each season.