Calendula is a good plant for late spring color in the garden. It enjoys cool weather and will handle several rounds of frost. Calendula is also an excellent plant to spice up the late summer and fall garden and will bloom long after the first frost.
Calendula is an ancient garden plant and was commonly known as the marigold or Pot Marigold, and was grown throughout Europe, both as a medicinal plant and as an ornamental. Then the other type of marigold was discovered in the New World, the bedding plant that Americans commonly refer to as the marigold. It was confusing to have two common garden plants with the same name, so now we use the name marigold for the species Tagetes and calendula for the wonderful, but almost forgotten, plant formally known as the marigold.
For a long time the beautiful little calendula has taken a backseat in ornamental gardens as the other marigold was developed into hundreds of varieties and sold by the millions in every garden center. As heritage flowers become popular again, calendula is finally getting some attention from plant breeders and new varieties that are coming on the market are sure to spark interest in its use as an ornamental.
How to grow calendula
Calendula is extremely easy to grow. Most gardeners can easily grow them from their curved, bumpy looking seeds. The seeds are usually planted where they are to grow, but they can be started inside. Outside in spring plant seeds 2-3 weeks before the average last frost in your area. If planting inside, start them about six weeks before your expected last frost. Cover the seeds lightly and keep them moist. They bloom quickly from seed, often as soon as six weeks after planting. You can sometimes find calendula plants in nurseries in the spring for immediate color. Sowing seed in early July in the garden will give you beautiful fall flowers as well. Often spring sown calendulas will go dormant for a bit in warm weather and then return to bloom in the fall or they will self- sow a second generation for you.
The calendula flower is daisy-like and 2-4 inches in size. There are varieties that are double flowered. Calendula flowers seem to glow or shine, in clear shades of vivid orange and yellow, and they are wonderful in flower arrangements. For a long time calendulas were always a solid color but recently plant breeders have introduced varieties with blends of colors and some softer pastel colors. Calendula flowers open in the day and close at night or in bad weather
Calendulas need to have the flowers picked off as they fade, or they will quit blooming. They are an annual plant, but they will re-seed freely in the garden, and you will get new plants each year if you let some go to seed. Calendula grows to about 18 inches high and branches freely. Calendula prefers full sun and average soil moisture. Little or no fertilizer is needed. They prefer cool weather and tend to go dormant or die in hot humid weather.
Choosing Varieties of calendula
Good ornamental varieties of calendula are ‘Citrus Smoothies‘, very double flowers in pastel blends of apricot and lemon with a light outer edge, ‘Orange Porcupine’, which has a quilled look to the bright orange petals, ‘Geisha Girl‘, which is a another deep orange with a very full look, almost like a small mum, and ‘Neon‘, a deep orange edged in burgundy. The ‘Flashback’ strain has maroon on the back of each flower petal and the front of the petal is a contrasting color, including peachy pinks. The ‘Pacific Giant’ strain has been around a long time and is a blend of many shades of yellow and orange. It has some resistance to heat. There are other improved varieties of calendula and new varieties are coming on the market every year.
Herbal uses of calendula
Calendula flowers are edible and can be added to salads for a colorful touch. The petals of calendula have long been used to impart a golden color to soups, egg dishes, rice, cheese and even butter. Calendula flowers are fed to chickens to make egg yolks a deeper yellow and to give the skins of broilers a golden color. (If you use calendula flowers in food make sure they have not been sprayed with any pesticides.)
Calendula can be used as a tea for stomach upset by steeping 5 teaspoons of fresh flower petals in hot water. If this mixture is allowed to cool it makes an excellent mouthwash, especially for sore and bleeding gums, because of its antiseptic properties. Crushing a calendula flower on an insect sting will ease the pain. Calendula is used in soothing salves, foot baths, and facial care products. If you want the variety used for most commercial herbal preparations look for ‘Erfurter Orange‘.
In short calendulas are an easy annual plant to grow from seed and give needed color to the garden in colder weather. And not only are they pretty but calendulas are edible so they fit right into your vegetable or herb garden as well the flower bed. Make sure to try some in your garden.