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Calendula officinalisCalendula, pot marigoldAnnual with orange...

Calendula officinalis

Calendula, pot marigold

Annual with orange or yellow flowers.

Like marigolds, calendulas tend to be taken for granted--they show up everywhere, from parking strips to container arrangements; but these workhorses are not really considered very sexy plants. They’re so common, so predictable, so bright .

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Such cheerfulness is welcome in winter and spring, and, perhaps even more important, calendulas are very easy to grow. In my garden, they have survived casual watering (a polite term for drought), aphid attacks and terrible soil; when I bothered to give them good soil and enough water, they rewarded me with huge flowers that lasted well into June.

The average calendula is about two feet high with dozens of showy daisy-like flowers that last a fairly long time on the plant and in bouquets. Plant them in full sun, and keep the flowers picked; if they are allowed to go to seed, the plant will slow down--even shut down--flower production.

Thanks to a few inventive restaurant chefs, calendulas are once again popular as an edible flower; one of their first functions as a cultivated plant was feeding the gardener (hence the common name pot herb ). Even if not eaten, a calendula certainly will enhance a plate of hash.

Calendulas are in nurseries now, ready for transplanting. Pacific Beauty is the most common variety, and also one of the most dependable. This and newer varieties, such as Bon Bon and Apricot Sherbet (both dwarfs, growing to slightly more than 12 inches), are available in softer shades, from gold to delicate apricot.

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Calendulas are easily grown from seed sown directly in the ground or in flats for later planting in the ground. The Thompson & Morgan catalogue has a full page devoted to 20 calendulas, most available in specific colors--distinct advantage over the mixed-color packets usually sold in seed racks.


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