Follow the Marigold Road
I was having trouble gathering my thoughts for this article. The world seems upside-down right now. Wasn’t it just yesterday that it was March? I swear I can still smell the aroma of magnolia and gardenia filling the air. But with summer days quickly approaching their end and the transition to autumn emerging, beautiful displays of yellows, golds, oranges, and reds fill the landscape. Sunflowers, goldenrods, black-eyed Susans, and of course marigolds.
Marigolds have been blooming all summer, but they achieve their grandest display in August and September. If you’ve been dead-heading all this time, you can extend the bloom season late into the fall. I started my marigolds from seed this year. Last year I bought a six-pack of mixed marigolds and planted them in my flower boxes on my porch railing. To my astonishment, they quickly filled the spaces and provided me joy all season long.
At the end of their growing season I left the last of the blooms to dry on the stem and collected them. They can simply be crushed in your hand, gently, to release the long, skinny seed from within (and there are many in one bloom). I kept them in a glass jelly jar with the lid on tight in a dark area of my garage.
I then planted them this spring directly into my flower boxes among the pansies and ivy already there. To my surprise, they germinated easily and quickly shot up to the sun. I truly love them, not only for their vibrant and warm colors, but to remind me of my childhood garden.
We always planted them amongst our vegetables because it’s been said that they deter some pests with their distinct aroma. I think that’s why I love them the most. Brushing my hand through their leaves and popping off the spent flowers stains my hands with their wonderful scent. It snaps me back to the early eighties, helping my parents in the garden.
The common name marigold is derived from the combination of the Virgin Mary and the gold that the flowers were substituted for as an offering. Marigolds are also common offerings for the Aztec, Buddhist, Hindu, and Pagan religions. It also has a symbolic meaning to the sun and resurrection. Marigolds have held many meanings like despair and grief, but also optimism and success. This is probably why it’s held in such high regard in Mexican culture. It’s been a symbol of celebration and honoring the memory of loved ones during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). If you watch the Disney movie, Coco, you will see them and their intense colors everywhere.
Marigolds are one of the easiest and non-fussy plants one can grow. They appreciate well-drained soils, and the addition of compost or manure prior to planting will help immensely with their blooms. They prefer full-sun conditions (even though my flower boxes are facing east so only get part-sun). Insects usually leave them alone but sometimes aphids and mites can be a nuisance. A stream of water sprayed on the infected areas will help keep them at bay. I had a small problem with beetles this year, but luckily, I had an assassin bug to help me out in that regard. (Not all bugs are bad even if their name suggests it.)
I leave you with a quote from Lady Bird Johnson that may offer inspiration in these trying times: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Enjoy a walk in your neighborhood or local park, and enjoy the colors and scents that fill the air. May they offer you respite and joy.
Stay well and let’s garden together.##
Eric W. Wahl is a landscape architect, artist, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.