A Tale of Two Hollyhocks – The Priscilla HollyhockBy Benjamin Hill (BennysPlace)
February 20, 2009
Let's go on a journey back to a time when the United States was still being forged and although the atrocities of man's inhumanity toward man are plentiful, a story of kindness, compassion and love can still be found. It is the 1830s and on a plantation in Georgia, Priscilla has just lost her mother. She has been sent way to be auctioned off and though Priscilla is alone, she is able to find solace in the one thing that can allow her to remain close to her mother: rows and rows of hollyhocks they planted together.
I can certainly understand Priscilla's (and her mother's for that matter) affinity for the hollyhock. The towering branches provide columns of beautiful flowers of orange, red, yellow and pink. It is no wonder this vintage flower still remains the foundation of the perfect cottage garden. At its peak, it is sheer perfection and when it begins to fade, the seeds that fall perpetuate the magic again and again.
As Priscilla adjusts to life without her mother, the comfort of this remarkable biennial allows her to remain strong and determined to seek a better life. Fate plays its hand and when her master dies, she is gathered up along with all of the man's other possessions and taken away to be auctioned. Before she leaves, she visits the hollyhock garden once again and gathers as many seeds as she can and keeps them safe in her pocket. Priscilla is purchased by a Cherokee chief and although her new master is more kind, she still lacks the freedom she desperately longs for. She plants the hollyhock seeds gathered from the plantation and once again she is able to take solace in her most treasured possession.
The year is now 1838 and the Cherokee Nation is being forced from their reservations to march the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) due to the passing of the Indian Removal Act. This would allow coveted land in the south to be made available to white farmers. Once again Priscilla is on the move along with the seeds of her beloved hollyhock plants. Her future and her life are now in severe jeopardy because the road to Oklahoma is long and hard and many will perish due to exposure and starvation.
Fate once again plays her hand and when Priscilla reaches the town of Jonesboro Illinois, her life changes dramatically. When living on the Georgia plantation, Priscilla met a man by the name of Basil Silkwood. Meeting this little girl left a lasting impression and when he saw her for the second time, he immediately recognized her. He decided to purchase Priscilla's freedom for $1000 in gold. She was taken to the Silkwood Inn where she was accepted as a member of the family. She had many brothers and sisters all adopted by Silkwood. Once again, Priscilla planted the hollyhock seeds her mother once grew in what must have seemed like a lifetime ago in Georgia. Priscilla and her hollyhocks found a permanent, loving home at long last.
Priscilla remained at the inn until her death in 1892. Today, the Silkwood Inn stands proud and fully restored thanks to the efforts of John and Jean Crowe and the residents of Mulkeytown Illinois. Surrounding the inn and consequently throughout many gardens of the area stand the Priscilla Hollyhocks for all to treasure and reflect upon.
I discovered this story last year when searching the Internet for ways to improve soil conditions of all things. There was an article on HGTV's website that spoke of these hollyhocks. I immediately became enamored and intrigued by this story and read as much as I could about the history of the inn, Mulkeytown, Basil Silkwood and of course Priscilla. Once the book was released, I purchased it and took delight in this very charming story presented by Anne Broyles. The last words of the last page of this wonderful book were used for the title of this article. Though it may seem like a children's book, it is a book for everyone, everywhere and it is particularly a book for gardeners.
I am blessed with the presence of many plants that tell a story because for me--along with many other gardeners--that is one of the most integral parts of gardening. I love nostalgia and I absolutely cherish and love this story of Priscilla and her hollyhocks. Priscilla demonstrates courage and finds solace among hollyhocks planted by her mom. When auctioned to another master, she carries the seeds to her new home. On the Trail of Tears, she once again carries the seeds. She and the seeds reach their final destination. The journey is the story and the journey continues.
Through months of investigation and determination, I was able to obtain some actual Priscilla hollyhock plants. When opening the package, I felt I was uncovering an ancient treasure and my hands actually trembled as I held one of the plants in my hands. How humbling to hold a plant that originates from a plant so treasured by such an incredible child. Though she is no longer with us, Priscilla leaves behind a legacy of hope, love and kindness. We have her flowers to gaze and reflect upon and we have her story to be told and retold to the generations ahead of us.
Image credits: End Illustration Copyright © Anna Alter 2008, thumbnail image was taken by the author and the image of the Silkwood Inn was used with permission from the owners.
I owe an extreme debt of gratitude to Anna Alter. She is a kind and gifted illustrator and I cannot thank her enough for allowing me to use her illustration for this story. She was an invaluable resource for the inspiration needed to create this article. Please visit her website to view the talent of this remarkable woman. She also has a wonderful blog as well. Thank you again Anna.
Next, I would like to thank Anne Broyles for telling the story of Priscilla. The story has reached and touched millions of hearts and I for one am grateful and blessed to know the story and own her wonderful book.
Finally, I would like to thank two very kind people for helping me obtain these hollyhocks. They know who they are.