Marigolds: A case of mistaken identity

“Let who will praise and behold
The reserved marigold.”

~ “The Choice,”  George Wither (1588-1667)

English poet and satirist George Wither mentions many flowers in his poem, “The Choice”; however, there is no doubt that many 21st century gardeners consider marigolds to be the right choice for their flower beds.

In Wither’s day, marigolds were Calendula officinalis, which are natives of the Mediterranean and were first cultivated in England around the 13th century. Today, however, when gardeners mention marigolds, we are usually referring to various species of plants in the Tagetes genus, including African marigolds (T. erecta), French marigolds (T. patula), and signet marigolds (T. tenuifolia). Although there are marigold species native to Africa within the Dimorphotheca genus, our so-called African and French marigolds are actually natives of Central and South America. In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, marigolds are placed at gravesites on All Hallow’s Day, November 1st, in memory of deceased loved ones.

Although the Tagetes species of marigolds bloom best with plenty of sunshine,  I’ve found that T. patula and T. tenuifoliaburn up in my flower beds that get hot afternoon sun. I plant mine in well-draining soil where they receive some afternoon shade, and in

Tagetes marigolds in pots on my patio.

containers that I can move around as needed. I water my container marigolds everyday, and the bedded flowers are on drip irrigation. I pinch back young plants in early summer to encourage branching, and I remove spent flowers during the growing season to promote more blooms.

Triploid marigolds are a multicolored hybrid of African and French marigolds. They tend to perform better in the heat, and do not set seed.  All marigolds are deer resistant and African marigolds, in particular, have pungent foliage that deters pests in the vegetable garden.

In late summer and fall, when many of my flowers are fading, I can count on my marigolds to brighten up my garden until frost. No wonder George Wither also observed:

“When with a serious musing I behold
The gradteful and obsequious margold
How duly every morning she displays
Her open breast when Phoebus spreads his rays…”

Check out the marigolds and other flowers mentioned in some of Shakespeare’s plays in The Bard’s Garden at historic Hanley Farm. Self-guided tours are available during Summer Sundays at the Farm from noon to 4 p.m. through Sept. 2 at 1053 Hanley Road in Central Point.

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