Plant Spotlight – Marigolds

Marigolds are great fun. They are easy to grow from seed, colourful and free flowering. A perfect introduction to gardening for children and garden novices, marigolds ask a little and give a lot.

There are lots of different types of marigolds available but the key distinction is between pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and French and African marigolds (Tagetes). We grow only the former here in the gardens at Winterbourne, preferring their more traditional, simple, open flowers to the coarser, often two-tone, flowers of their more exotic near-relatives.

Pot marigolds are a fast-growing annual native to the Western Mediterranean, although they have long been cultivated in other parts of the world and are now widely naturalised. They have sometimes sticky, aromatic green leaves and heads of giant daisy-like flowers borne all through the summer and early autumn until the first frosts arrive and kill the tender plants.

The flowers are usually bright orange, but a number of good yellow and white flowered cultivars are also available. We grow C. ‘Indian Prince’ most often, a well-known, reliable cultivar. The open flower is a familiar orange, but the petals are coloured crimson on their backs, as is the centre of the flower.

Both the flowers and the leaves have wonderful medicinal properties, typically useful during their time of bloom, June to August (nature knows what it is doing!). Calendula cream is well known to aid skin irritation linked with insect bites, stings and sunburn but it’s useful to know that the plant itself provides you all you need when you cannot lay your hands on the readymade product.

The leaves, when scrunched up, produce a bright green liquid. This can be applied to insect bites and also bee and wasp stings to provide instant relief.

Pour boiling water on lightly bruised petals and leave to cool. This’ Marigold water’ can be used to take the burn out of sunburn but is also works wonders for swollen hay fever eyes, Close the eye and bath with the water using cotton wool. After about five minutes the redness subsides and irritation is supressed for up to four hours. Having used the plant myself for all these remedies I can vouch for its effectiveness!

The flowers are also edible and the orange petals look glorious scattered on a salad or butter iced cake.

Seeds are best sown under cover in April or May, pricked out into 9cm pots and planted out in borders or containers in mid-May to June once the danger of frost has passed. They grow best in full sun and will need watering through dry spells but otherwise are not difficult to keep happy. As with all marigolds, dead-heading is key to keeping your plants flowering all the way through the summer.

C. ‘Snow Princess’ has lovely, ruffled, yellow and white flowers, tipped at the very edges with a hint of red. But for something really different it is worth seeking out C. ‘Sunset Bluff’ which has very distinctive apricot coloured flowers blushed with white and yellow.

This year we are trialling growing C. ‘Indian Prince’ at Winterbourne, planted alongside our national collection of Anthemis, where their bright orange flowers compliment the hot-yellows of their new neighbours. For contrast we have tried some in pots with pink flowered Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ and the purple flowering, annual climber Ipomoea ‘Grandpa Ott’ – not a combination for the faint hearted but we think it looks great!

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