Skip to content

The Hollyhocks of Arnold Circus

March 17, 2013
by the gentle author

The majestic hollyhocks of Arnold Circus are one of the highlights of the horticultural year in the East End – thanks to Andy Willoughby, the gardener whose hard work and imaginative planting made everyone recognise the beauty of the bandstand at the heart of the Boundary Estate after decades of neglect. Andy is supported by the Friends of Arnold Circus who engineered the recent renovation of the park and, although this process involved the temporary uprooting of many of the plants, last summer the gardens were restored to their former beauty with the hollyhocks soaring above all else.

Ever ingenious at seeking ways to improve the environment of Britain’s first council estate, the Friends invited sculptor Rachel Whiteread, who lives nearby, to create a limited edition print that could be sold to support the maintenance of the gardens. Fresh from producing her golden foliate designs upon the facade of the Whitechapel Gallery, Rachel Whiteread made a print inspired by the shape of the hollyhock seeds that Andy Willoughby gathers each year to propagate seedlings for the coming spring.

Launched last December, the edition of one hundred and twenty five prints is already half sold, ensuring that Andy can continue gardening for another year and now, with spring approaching, packets of hollyhock seeds have been produced including Rachel Whiteread’s design. Yet these are no common or garden seed packets, but hexagonal origami contrivances designed by Masaki Miwa at Åbäke in Hackney which echo the shape of the octagonal bandstand at Arnold Circus.

Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven followed the whole process from the harvesting of the seeds, through the folding and filling of the packets, involving a whole host of local people. And now we just need your help – to buy these packets of seeds, thereby assisting the flourishing of the gardens at Arnold Circus and, at the same time, adorning the East End with thousands of hollyhocks in the summer of 2013.

Hollyhock seeds gathered at Arnold Circus.

Rachel Whiteread signs her print inspired by the hollyhock seeds.

Rachel Whiteread’s hollyhock seed screen print, produced in an edition of one hundred and twenty-five.

The launch of the print at Leila’s Cafe last year.

The design for the seed packet by Masaki Miwa at Åbäke incorporating Rachel Whiteread’s print.

Arnold Circus gardener Andy Willoughby gets to grips with folding the origami seed packetss.

Andy Willoughby & Alice Herrick, project curator, show off their folded seed packets.

Hollyhock seeds from Arnold Circus.

Jean Locker, resident of Arnold Circus, filters the seeds she gathered with Andy Willoughby.

Hannah sorts the seeds.

The seed packing production line at Leila’s Cafe last week.

Jean Locker, Rose Pomeroy, Leila McAlister, Hannah & Tulsi sorting and measuring seeds, filling and sealing packets.

Approximately one hundred seeds go into each of the three hundred packets.

Tulsi and Annegret Affolderbach-Dlamini with a finished packet.

Hollyhock hexagons are on sale now at Leila’s Shop for £5 in aid of the gardens at Arnold Circus.

Grow the majestic hollyhocks of Arnold Circus in your garden this summer.

Top photo of hollyhocks © Andy Willoughby

Last photo of hollyhocks © Alice Herrick

All other photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

Copies of Rachel Whiteread‘s limited edition silkscreen print can be bought online from Galerie Simpson. Prints and the packets of seeds are on sale at Leila’s Shop, 15-17 Calvert Ave, E2 7JP. Please come to celebrate the launch of the seed packets at Leila’s Shop on Monday 25th March 5-8pm.

You may also like to read about

How Raymond’s Shop became Leila’s Shop

Who is Arnold Circus?

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Deby (from Canada) permalink
    March 17, 2013

    The spirit of community illustrated in this post is awe inspiring and makes me cry (in a happy way). Thank you for sharing.

  2. March 17, 2013

    Oh my. My hollyhocks became crispy critters in our obscenely hot summer. These are stunning – and thank you for sharing them.

  3. jeannette permalink
    March 17, 2013

    glorious, including all the lovely faces of the people chipping in. i hope you make a million dollars. and the hollyhocks themselves are — heaven. thank you.

  4. March 17, 2013

    Those hollyhock seeds will be perfect for the front of our community garden on Mare Street.

  5. March 17, 2013

    How fantastic – I wasn’t expecting a full record of the hollyhock year. Good for all those community gardeners. Nicola

  6. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    March 17, 2013

    What beautiful hollyhocks,I wish mine grew like that!

  7. Gary permalink
    March 17, 2013

    The success of the Hollyhocks must be due to the fact that the garden is ringed by roadway.
    Hollyhocks are a major target for slugs and snails, They get eaten in my garden long before they are big enough to flower. There is little chance of a slug getting to Arnold Circus without being squashed

  8. March 17, 2013

    I feel like yesterday’s news, all looks like another world from the nether regions of Hackney

  9. Jon Marx permalink
    March 19, 2013

    Two of my grandparents and many of their sisters and brothers lived and raised their families 100 years ago in the “buildings” around Arnold Circus, and I clearly recall visiting the bandstand (as Arnold Circus was known to them) as a child about 60 years ago. Today, I’ve visited Leila’s Cafe and bought some of the lovely hollyhock packets as presents for their grandchildren.

    So you see – Arnold Circus hollyhocks aren’t just any old hollyhocks !


  10. Lynette permalink
    March 19, 2013

    Andy, do you remember we always had hollyhocks in our garden when we were kids – and they always had earwigs inside them in those days – what’s happened to all the earwigs?

  11. Andy Willoughby permalink
    March 20, 2013

    I love Patricia Nivens photos, particularly the 2 black & white ones of seed packing at the table. Lynette, I did find a few earwigs in them, but not many, and Gary, we do have lots of slugs on the Circus, but they don’t do too much damage to the Hollyhocks. We don’t have many snails. Thank you, Gentle Author, for another great article.

  12. P.S.GREEN permalink
    March 23, 2013

    The hollyhocks at Arnold Circus are superb! I live too far away to come to the event on Monday 25th, but I have posted a cheque to Leila’s Shop and hope to have a glorious ‘hedge’ of them around my allotment next summer.

  13. September 4, 2013

    What a lovely and inspirational blog post. I’m totally inspired to try and create something similar with the Love Withington Baths group in Manchester and make the grounds of the Baths we’re trying to save more beautiful!
    Thank you for posting & for all the wonderful ideas x

  14. Elizabeth permalink
    September 17, 2013

    The earwigs came to Canada! Interesting story, is there a website anywhere that shows how to fold the seed packets?

  15. Liz Farler permalink
    July 18, 2016

    Some love coming your way from west Wales as hollyhocks from Circus seeds are flowering in my garden.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS