Plants - Annuals

Marvelous marigolds

The age-old marigold is still a front runner in many gardens.

marigold-calendula.jpgCalendula: The other marigold
The other annual that goes by the common name marigold—Calendula officinalis—was discovered much earlier than Tagetes. It was growing wild in India, when holy men gathered flowers into garlands to adorn temples and statues. Called the herb of the sun, these marigolds quickly became popular with the Greeks and Egyptians. The shoots were eaten as greens, while the petals were used in teas and stews, as a dye for cheese, and dried, as a poor man's saffron substitute. A salve made from the petals was found to have healing properties (it was still being used to treat wounds at the time of the First World War). Since the flower bloomed during festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary, Christians called the flower "marygold". When the Saxons began to grow the flower in monastery gardens, they dubbed it Calendula officinalis, meaning that it was officially sanctioned by the monastery. It was sold during the Middle Ages for inclusion in the soup pot, hence the name "pot marygold".

Calendulas prefer direct seeding. Sow after all danger of frost is past and allow a couple of weeks for seeds to germinate. Deadheading encourages continuous bloom, but a second planting in mid-July ensures fresh blooms in fall. They often perform best in late August or early September, when temperatures begin to drop. Plants tolerate light frosts, and in my Victoria garden sometimes winter over.

Dwarf varieties thrive in pots; I also use them to edge my herb garden, where they grow about 12 inches (30 centimetres) tall. 'Bon Bon Mixed' reliably produces large 21⁄2-inch (six-centimetre) blooms; 'Touch of Red' has striking orange and gold blooms outlined in sienna, or creamy yellow blooms outlined in burgundy.

Tall calendulas grow up to 24 inches (60 centimetres), making them a regal choice. 'Pacific Beauty' produces orange and yellow blooms on long stems, and are excellent for cutting. The Princess series produces large, slightly flat double blooms with striking black centres.



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