Calendulas don’t have a large palette of exotic sounding colours. Nor is its design particularly flamboyant or unique. What Calendula does offer however is a ray of bright sunshine in an otherwise bleak winter landscape. A bed of orange and yellow Calendulas in full bloom will brighten up even the coldest of days.
You might know calendulas as the pot marigold. But don’t confuse them with marigolds. Calendula officinalis belongs to the Asteraceae family which is probably the largest family of flowering plants with over 25,000 species. In Southern Africa we find at least 2,300 of these species. Calendula is native to southern Europe although it is has now naturalised across the world in the more temperate regions.
In some parts of the world Calendula are considered to be a summer annual. In South Africa, however, the summers are too hot and the plants simply wither in the heat. The cooler temps of winter and their resilience to frost make them an ideal option for winter colour.
Each plant produces numerous stems. The stems are thick and hairy and vary in height (20-60cm), depending on variety. The lower leaves are oval with rounded tips and the upper leaves are more lance shaped. The leaves are bright green in colour and like the stems, covered in fine hairs.
The flowers are simple in design. The single varieties are daisy-like in appearance with a diameter of approximately 5-6cm. The double flowers look more like a dahlia and can get up to approximately 8cm in diameter. When buying a mix, there may even be single and double flowers in the same pack. Single colours are available in orange and yellow. The mix will have shades of primrose and even pale apricot along with the bright orange and yellow.
Calendulas are one of the most trouble-free annuals. Plant the seedlings in a full-sun to part-sun position. They are not particularly fussy about their soil and in fact too much pampering is often detrimental to their wellbeing. At the most, remove dead flowers to encourage continuous blooming. Feed once every couple of months with a soluble multifeed.
These plants can be used in containers and borders, but they are most striking planted en masse in the beds. They are best paired with Bellis (also from the daisy family) or Kale. Try planting out a pot or potage with calendula and the purple variety of Kale. The contrast in the foliage and the colours will make a dramatic and interesting focal point. Calendulas are also great companions to the winter and spring flowering Primula aculucsis. With their jewel coloured blooms in shades of pink, red, purple and blue, these annuals are the perfect bedfellows for the pot marigold. And, last but not least, calendulas are the ultimate companion of the tomato plant. They keep bugs at bay, including tomato worm and aphids, and add to the quality of the soil making your tomato crop richer than ever.
For centuries, Calendulas have been used for medicinal purposes. Used mainly for skin treatments such as cuts, burns, bites, itches and stings. The petals are used for producing dyes. The leaves are used in salads, but tend to be bitter and unpalatable to some people. The plant has many essential oils which are extracted for use in the cosmetic industry for perfumes and lotions. This humble “daisy” really is a wonder plant.
Did you know?
In the middle ages, Calendula were used to colour cheese. It was known as the “poor man’s saffron”