Calendulas (Calendula officinalis) are a cheerful addition to any garden, herbal or otherwise. This long-season bushy annual produces blossoms in shades from cream, to apricot, to reddish gold. The flower shape is somewhere between a daisy and a chrysanthemum. When planted in the front section of border gardens they reward the viewer with a carpet of color. Most calendulas grow 8-20 inches high. Fertilize and water regularly to encourage flower production.
Also known as pot marigolds, calendulas are multi-use herbal flowers. They’ve been used in hair preparations to add golden highlights. Strong calendula tea added to glycerin and rosewater aids in soothing dry, cracked skin. The petals are rich in carotene, an anti-oxidant nutrient found also in carrots and squash. Fresh or dried petals are used to color and flavor foods in place of the more expensive saffron. In Medieval times the petals were used to give a golden color to cheese.
Calendulas can grow in a wide range of climates and are hardy to Zone 2. Start calendula seeds indoors about six weeks before your last frost date. You can also sow them directly in a sunny part of your garden in early spring after danger of frost has passed. Seedlings can also be put out in the fall for additional color during cooler weather.
Unfortunately calendulas are often plagued with aphids. This has led to them sometimes being used as a “trap plant” for these sucking insects. The theory is that since aphids are so fond of calendulas they will abandon other plants in preference for a preferred food. However some gardeners take the opposite view, that calendulas attract aphids to the garden. Whichever view is correct, insecticidal soap should quickly get an infestation under control.
Mature calendulas tend to sprawl and look untidy. They benefit from pinching the terminal leaves to encourage side shoots and more flowers. To harvest, clip the heads when in full bloom. Remove spent blooms during the growing season to encourage re-blooming. Allow a few blossoms to go to seed in the fall for a repeat performance the following year.