In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
December, 2001
Regional Report

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Out of season pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) blooming in my garden.

A Calendular Surprise

Pot marigold is a humdrum name for a charming plant, Calendula officinalis. This cheerful yellow- and orange-flowered annual blooms its heart out in my vegetable garden, in a corner set aside for culinary herbs and edible flowers. Calendula fits into both categories, being both edible as either a garnish or as a food colorant while it also has a long history as a soothing medicinal herb with gentle healing properties.

Easy to Grow

Calendula is easy to grow in a sunny spot. It seems to prefer cooler weather and consequently blooms most prolifically for me in spring and fall -- although normally not quite this late (or should that be this early?) in the season!

I have encouraged the calendula to self seed and colonize its own little spot of ground. I allow the best plants to set some seed each fall and keep a wary eye out for the seedlings each spring so that I don't absent mindedly pull them all out while weeding or, just as bad, smother them with mulch. Over time, the color blend has changed with the orange flowered plants gradually petering out. This spring, I might plant some purchased seed to bring back the orange.

I thin the seedlings to ten inches apart to accommodate robust mature plants. I also keep them vigorous by harvesting the flowers for kitchen use or by deadheading (clipping off) those that have passed their prime.

Origins of the Name

Here, calendula stops blooming when winter's cold sets in. But in its native Mediterranean region, it blooms year round. So it's not surprising that the Latin botanical name echoes the old word calends (or kalends), meaning the day of the new moon and first day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar.

What better gardening way to celebrate the first day of the first month of the new year than with a glowing golden calendula blossom? Here's to a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year!


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