Our short fall is quickly transforming into winter, the the to-do list is not getting any smaller. Fun story (warning, nothing to do with flowers): right before Halloween, we were at Home Depot grabbing some needed supplies for a wedding install. Well, Home Depot has some cruelness to it. They put Christmas decorations out. As adults, we realize their marketing schemes and how time flies by during the holiday season, they need to maximize sales for as long as possible. My five-year-old daughter does not understand this. You see, we were on our way to the Halloween section, because, what other section would young children like to see there? The day before, I had just finished sewing her Snow White dress (in between a couple weddings, fall planting, seed ordering, and preparing for family coming into town. I am super mom, as long as you don't look in my messy kitchen...). Picture this, on the way to the Halloween section, which I could see across the entire store, is Christmas. Yup, Christmas. My daughter started balling uncontrollably. In between her sorrowful sobs (which is out of character for this daughter, my younger daughter is a whole different story) she whimpers "we missed Halloweeeeen."
I am proud of the amount of self control I had mustered in this moment. I really just wanted to laugh, one of those strong from the belly laughs. At her height and tunnel vision induced by her age, she could not see the Halloween section across the way. This was serious, she didn't get to wear her new dress or eat candy. It took a good five minutes to get her to calm down and trust me, we did not miss Halloween. She still gets to wear her costume and will not miss out on a sugar hangover. I had to call my husband from the lumber section to help deescalate the situation.
These moments are just too precious and hilarious not to share. In between costume making and weddings, most of the garden was put to sleep. Even some flowers that were supposed to be more tolerant of the cold. Going from hot summer nights to frigid winter temperatures would put anyone in shock. One resilient flower, that is often overlooked: calendula.
Calendula is one of my dependable blooms that I don’t highlight much. It’s more of a supporting actor for the sunflowers and dahlias. After the cold spell of this last week, I was reminded why I simply love calendula so much- it is cold hardy. I have quite a few different flowers that are cold hardy but calendula is the focus of the day. Perhaps it’s because I stumbled across some plants in the garden that I meant to pull up but didn’t. Sometimes, I love my laziness and squirrel attention span.
While my dahlias were decimated by mid September (and they were finally in their peak!), along with some of our other favorite heat loving flowers, the calendula has been going nuts. These plants were heavy producers for me in the spring, and I used some in the summer (mainly focused on deadheading, I mean there were zinnias and cosmos to be in their place!). Now these guys are proving to me their loyalty or perhaps pity. I did lose half my garden after all.
It’s fitting that in the Victorian language of flowers that calendula represents “sympathy.” I suppose it was pity over loyalty. Haven’t heard of calendula? It’s also known as “pot marigold.” I know, marigold- different family and not really a marigold like the French or African marigolds (that also blackened in the cold last week). Calendula comes from the Mediterranean area.
I initially grew calendula for its medicinal and cooking uses. Calendula has been used as “poor man saffron” (yes another similarity between this flower and French marigolds). The flower petals can liven up a refreshing cocktail or salad. Medicinally, people make tinctures or make tea out of it. It is said that it helps boost the immune system, has been used to speed up the healing process plus many other treatments. Very interesting flower, definitely worth looking into (if you are interested in using botanicals for healing).
Now, I grow calendula as a cut flower. This guy is great, holds well out of water and has an awesome vase life. Plus, it’s not needy. I have enough diva plants in my life, sometimes I enjoy the easy-goers. Calendula doesn’t take up a ton of space, but it’s a self sower! Which, self sowers can be great. I evidently missed some deadheading, because I have calendula seedlings galore volunteering in garden. You won’t see me complaining! I love free seeds and I love less work. I’ll just go in and thin them, once I get a better idea of who the true champions will be for me. Don’t waste time with starting indoors, simply broadcast seeds out in your garden in fall or early spring. That’s it! I like to give calendula minimum eight-inch spacing.
There are so many different varieties to choose from. “Alpha” is great for a standard yellow or orange. “Pink Surprise” is orange with apricot tones. “Prince” has great stem length and is quite fluffy. I’ve been in love with “flashback mix” because, sometimes I like surprises!
I love using calendula in two phases. The flowers are enjoyable for sure but even the immature seed pods have been a fun addition in my design work. For the longest vase life, harvest calendula when the flowers are about half open or wait for the immature seed pods to give your arrangement a unique look. For edible flowers, harvest when the flower is fully open.
I hope you give calendula a try, its quite the forgotten gem. If you are looking for an easy growing flower that can handle our crazy weather- this is your new best friend!