by: Kathleen Duncan, Fort Gordon Community Garden Coordinator.
Marigolds are a marvelous and useful flower but one that often gets overlooked for flashier flowers. Marigolds, in all their glory and diversity, are the most useful plant in my garden. One of the nice things about marigolds is how easy they are to grow. Most of the time, my granddaughter helps me grow these happy flowers from seeds sowed directly in the garden. Marigolds are really hard to mess up and she LOVES watching them grow.
I use the smaller sized French marigolds around my vegetables as a companion plant and the small Signet marigolds for edging. I plant Calendula in my "wildflower" garden even though the flower is not really in the Marigold family. Calendula is a pretty, happy, yellow flower which is also edible. Add the petals to salads or stir-fry like you do Nasturtium for a peppery flavor and spots of color. My husband swears I am out to poison him with the "weird" ingredients I add to my cooking.
Let me break this down a bit more.
I plant the little cuties, Signets, around the border of my garden in my lower beds (I use raised garden beds, some are lower than others). This is supposed to keep rabbits out (not proven by research, more old farmers stories). It may work on rabbits but it definitely doesn't work on cats! I think my lack of bunny infestation has more to do with my neighbor's cats always being in my garden. I love these little marigolds, they are really cute and a nice pretty border so they are not required to keep bunnies out.
Marigolds are a great way to reduce bugs in my garden by planting the smallish French marigolds with my cucumbers, melons, eggplant and squash. This is a dual purpose companion planting as it keeps bugs, such as aphids, cucumber beetles and squash bugs, out of the garden. I really hate squash bugs!! As a companion plant it also helps basil, cucumbers, kale, squash and tomatoes grow stronger and healthier.
My tomato crop last year was dismal - too much rain and heat. It was just awful! I read that if you overplant with French marigolds in the off season, the flowers will naturally get rid of pesky nematodes. This left me with a BUNCH of marigolds to pull out to prep for this season. This abundance made me think I could dehydrate them and save the pretty yellow petals. Then the same husband who thinks I would poison him with nasturtiums looked at my petal collection and said "I don't want to see these in my food PLEASSSEEEE".
Long story short, I then went looking for a project to do with the batch of petals and found a book on Amazon called "A Garden to DYE For" by Chris McLaughlin. There I found the answer to my petal problem -- fresh picked or dehydrated marigolds make a yellow dye for yarns and fabrics. Like I needed another reason to plant marigolds! There is a process to making the dye but, if you can make spaghetti, you can make this dye. The book has a list of plants that can be used to make dyes so, if this interests you, the book can be found on Amazon.
Unfortunately, the Fort Gordon Community Garden is still closed for maintenance. However, I hope everyone now looks at the marvelous marigold as the glorious and diversely useful flower that it is and plant some in their home gardens this year. If you have questions or extra flower petals, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org