The journey through the world of gardening is like life: you meet new friends and some you manage to keep in touch with or see often while you lose contact with others, often for no particular reason, though, with luck, when you do meet again you can pick up the friendship where you left off. You can’t help it – you don’t have room for all the plants you love and your life changes and people move away.
There are plants that you grow just every few years and get re-acquainted with and there are others that just stay with you.
Calendula officinalis (or pot marigolds or English marigolds – probably to distinguish them from French and African marigolds) are so common that some people regard them as weeds, but I love them.
They are hardy annuals and dead easy to grow. They probably do best from an autumn (September) sowing so they flower early in summer and have good roots to help them keep going when the weather (hopefully) gets hot and dry in summer. When the plants get old and stressed they will get mildew and they can get straggly and deadheading is worth the effort if you have the time, because it will keep the plants neat and keep the flowers coming.
They will selfseed and they do tend to revert back to simpler, less double forms and the plain orange will dominate but they are all lovely. The seedlings are big and easy to identify so if they do get enthusiastic about throwing themselves around you can easily remove them.
There are loads of forms to choose from with a range of plant habits and flowers shapes though citrus shades dominate. That should make pink grapefruit permissible but the surprise of ‘Pink Surprise’ is that it isn’t pink. There are lots of newer, dwarf kinds, including some that I like because they have single flowers, but I am always drawn to the ‘Kablouna’* and newer ‘Kalinka’** types with anemone-centred flowers on tall plants.
The whole plant is aromatic and I love the smell but then I love the smell of all marigolds so I am a bit odd maybe. The petals, like all parts of the plant, are edible and good to sprinkle on salads and they were once used to colour butter. If I was a bather rather than a showerer I would sprinkle flowers in the bath since calendula is very soothing for the skin and what could be more lovely than soaking in a bath playing with calendula petals – apart from the slightly worrying yellow colour of the water and the fear that you may emerge looking like pilau rice. Oh- and get someone else to clean the bath afterwards.
You can sow the seeds now, where you want them to grow and the large, grub- like seeds are easy to handle.
In Curtis’s Botanical Magazine of 1832 they wrote:
‘It is…a very old inhabitant of our flower-borders, having been introduced so long ago as 1573, from the South of Europe: and is now frequent in the gardens even of the peasantry. Linnaeus observed that its flowers usually expanded from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon:
but SHAKESPEARE seems more correct when he calls it –
“The Marygold that goes to bed with the sun,
And with him rises weeping.”
The flowers, which vary much in the intensity of colour, and in being more or less double, were formerly, and are still, used in some parts of England, to impart an agreeable colour and peculiar flavour to soups and broths…’
The name calendula is derived from Calendae meaning the first day of every month, referring to the fact that it is always in bloom – at least in its native south Europe.
I have to mention too that calendulas are a big hit with insects too and bees and hoverflies will thank you for planting them. They are cheerful, easy going, happy flowers that will never stress you out and always make you smile.