In My Garden – The Common Marigold

We are in the middle of winter here and the garden is looking pretty sad. The lawn is soggy under foot, there is lots of greenery but many yellowing leaves. The white daisies are out and a clump of snowflakes (Leucojum) but they don’t exactly raise the spirits when the sun is hiding.

Today, I decided to subject the leafless apricot tree to a pruning that my mother would have been proud of (the whole garden trembled when Mum picked up a saw) and was amazed to find a bright orange marigold bloom beneath the tree – a harbinger of better things to come.

The common marigold or Calendula officinalis is part of the daisy family. It originated around the Mediterranean but grows well in any warm temperate area. It tolerates poor to average soil as long as it is well drained and even survives well in our clayey soil.

The plant can, apparently, grow up to 80 cm (31 inches) tall though mine have never grown any higher than 20cm (8 inches) at best.  The branched stems are covered in fine hairs. The aromatic leaves are oblong-lanceolate and slightly rough to the touch; they form dense clumps. When young, the plants can be pinched back to encourage more compact growth. The flowerheads are 2.5 to 5 cm across (2 to 3 inches) and are situated at the end of the stems. What we think of as the petals are called ray florets and can be either single or double in colours ranging from orange and yellow through to the creams, apricot pinks and bi-colours found in cultivars. The centre is often darker and is made of short disk florets with stamen. Although individual flowers are either male or female, both sexes are present on the same plant. The seeds are curved and form on the flower head after the petals have dropped. The plants can self-seed so if you are particularly neglectful as a gardener you end up with a constant supply of marigolds.

The common marigold plant can be grown in pots or garden beds in anything from full sun to semi-shade. In Australia they bloom throughout the year and blossoming can be extended by deadheading the plants. In summer, with heat well into the 30s, the leaves can burn and, in damp weather, I find they get a bit mildewy. That said, they do tolerate cold and are quite frost-hardy, not that we get much frost these days in the middle of the city. Generally, a substantial prune of the offending parts will bring them back to form. They are also said to be prone to aphids but I have not had a problem with them. The common marigold is definitely adaptable and, like everything else in my garden, does do not require a lot of maintenance.

For centuries, the marigold has been well known for its range of culinary and medicinal uses. The flowers and leaves are edible and can be added fresh or dried to soups, stews, salads or rice dishes to provide flavour and colour. The petals have been used to colour cheeses and butter and are said to taste something like saffron. The petals are also said to be able to boost the immune system and can be used as a topical treatment for minor cuts and abrasions.

The marigold features in Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal(1653) with the extremely useful description, ‘These being so plentiful in every garden, and so well known that they need no description.’ Good thing we are not trying to identify the plant. Fortunately Culpeper does describe the uses of the marigold.
They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron. The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it. The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog’s-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not. (1)

The common marigold is also useful for companion planting in a vegetable garden as it will draw aphids away from the other plants. Despite all these wonderful attributes, I like the common marigold best for the burst of bright colour it brings to a rather dull winter garden.

(1) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal online
Interestingly, hog’s grease seems to have been a staple in 16th and 17th century topical medicines as a carrier for salves.

Image of marigold showing difference between the ray florets and disk florets and stamen by munki from Pixabay
Image of marigold seed head by Heike Frohnhoff from Pixabay
Image of marigold seeds by Klaus Beyer from Pixabay
Image of marigold ointment by T Caesar from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “In My Garden – The Common Marigold

  1. I love calendula, but I’m totally envious that you are mid-winter and have FLOWERS! My calendula are beginning to get smaller flowers with the heat, and they don’t last long before bolting to seed. I have jars of dried petals for tea and shortbread, and jars of fresh petals steeped in oil for all sorts of things. Enjoyed your informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While we consider our winters cold, we don’t get snow so there are usually a few things blooming. The jonquils were out a few weeks ago but they have shrivelled up and the early camellias have finished. In about a month everything will start moving properly. I am expecting much of my columbines this year.


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