Amsterdam was warm and colourful during my summer visit, but even in summer I'm always scanning the landscape trying to imagine a winter view. In high latitudes, especially, summer is always a tease, a rug that will be whipped out from under you as soon as you relax and accept it as real. For many years, too, I've lived in landscapes that offer much that is constant all year. Around Sydney, all trees and shrubs are evergreen and ephemeral annuals are a small part of the effect.
But in the Netherlands, the ephemeral looks ephemeral. Among the grey buildings, grey streets, and grey-green canals, ephemeral plants look like explosions. It constantly feels as though if I came back in an hour, they'd be gone.
And none more so than the bizarre and eruptive Alcea rosea. Hollyhocks, you'd say, but "hollyhock" is a cutesifying word, a word that you'd trust to be alone with your five-year-old child. It's quite wrong for such an eruptive, rushing and vaguely threatening creature, exploding from random cracks in the pavement.
That's the remarkable thing: They're everywhere in July, but none of them appear to be planted. I'm sure they're ripped out of they get in the way, but otherwise, they seem to happen wherever they happen.
The Dutch are great gardeners, and great city planners, but in this most tended and intentional of landscapes, the hollyhocks seem to be coming out of another dimension, a universe hidden in a pavement crack, full of alien life.