October’s flower is the Marigold, warm and fierce.  They exemplify elegance and devotion.  First discovered in the 16th century by the Portuguese in Central America who later introduced the flower to parts of Europe and India, no annual is more cheerful or easier to grow than the Marigold.  These flowers are the spendthrifts among annuals; bringing a wealth of gold, copper, and brass into our summer and autumn gardens.  The flowers popularity probably derives, in part, from its ability to bloom brightly all summer long.  Marigolds traditionally symbolized despair and grief over a loved one.  It may be surprising that such a cheerful flower is associated with the dead. In many cultures it’s those neon-bright colors of orange and yellow hues that represent the sunrays or light paths that guide their dearly departed. The bright orange and yellow hues also represent the beauty and warmth of the rising Sun and its power to resurrect. Today we often focus more on the sunny colors of the Marigold, representing optimism and prosperity.

The Marigold is a tiny flower that has a lot of meaning in connection with those born in October.  Christian, Aztec, Hindu, and many other religions have associated this flower with the Sun and resurrection for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, it was worn to attract new love and in the Victorian era, it was worn as a symbol of grief when losing a loved one.  Thankfully, for those whose birthdays fall in October it is now associated with charm, elegance, and devotion.

Marigolds have daisy – or carnation–like flowerheads that are produced singly or clusters.  Although there are some 50 species, most Marigolds we see in the garden are one of the following:  Tagetes erecta (AKA African Marigolds, American Marigolds or Mexican Marigolds). This is the tallest and most upright, reaching 3 to 4 feet in height and producing large, full flowers.  They’re native to Mexico and Central America and will thrive even under drought-like conditions. TAGETES PATULA (aka French Marigolds) tend to be smaller, bushier and more compact than T. erecta.  They are often wider than they are tall.  Elegant and eye-catching, they have relatively demure flowers and usually grow from 6 inches to 2 feet tall.  They are better suited to rainier conditions than other Tagetes species. Tagetes tenuifolia (aka Signet Marigolds): these petite marigolds do well in hot, dry sites and make for a wonderful edging plant.  They rarely reach more than a foot in height.

Calendula officinalis (aka Pot Margoles or English Maritolds); a native of southern Europe, this “Marigold” is actually not a true Marigold, but is an attractive companion plant nonetheless.  Its bright flowers are edible – with a tangy, peppery taste – so it is often grown alongside herbs in kitchen gardens.  The bright petals of the Calendula add color and a spicy tang to salads and other summer dishes.  The flower, mixed with rice to impart the color, but unfortunately, not the flavor of saffron. Calendula are yellow-orange in color and form small florets of petals that are harvested and dried for their numerous medicinal properties.  It is native to Egypt and parts of the Mediterranean. According to a report published in “Pharmacognosy Review”, more than 200 different commercial and medical formulations now contain concentrated Calendula Marigold extract. It treats rashes, allergies, eczema, and dermatitis, pain, swelling, muscular injuries or sprains, eye inflammation and itchiness caused by conjunctivitis, fungal infections including athlete’s foot, candida, ear infections and ring worm, to mention just a few of its uses.

Carolyn Surdel

Enfield Garden Club


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