Fiann O Nualláin looks at the pot marigold and discusses the little plant’s potency as a border flower, as a medicinal herb and also its pest prevention properties in the vegetable garden and beyond.
One of my favourite plants is the calendula, aka the pot marigold (Calendula officinalis).
I admit that it’s not that easy to place it in a well-balanced border — its vibrant orange doesn’t rhyme with much else.
It is however a great edging plant, fantastic as a pot or container specimen and never out of place in a veg patch.
A self-seeder and a joy to look at, it is said to vibrate at the same frequency as happiness and was the inspiration for the colour of Buddhist robes (the plant and saffron were once traditionally used as dye).
The calendula plant flowers right up to the harshest of frosts and is called the pot marigold because of its use as a pot herb.
The foliage is not so much on the menu today, but I use the petals in salads and to bejewel rice or couscous or quinoa — they add vitamin A to the meal.
Any plant with ‘officinalis’ in its nomenclature was an ‘official herb’ cultivated by medieval monks as medicine.
It is recently revived as a medicinal with extracts of the petal prescribed to slow macular degeneration.
The lutein molecules that make up the orange pigmens in its flower are powerful antioxidants that replenish the rods and cones at the back of the eye and improve other mechanisms of eyesight too.
They are also replete with pro-retinol A — the expensive ingredient in anti-ageing face creams and make a great antiseptic wound healer for thorn scrapes and accidental cuts.
I love the plant, especially at this time of the year. It shines in the type of light we have about now and elevates the dimming garden.
If you haven’t any in your garden or plot, now is the perfect time to sow for a crop or display next year.
Calendula is actually the birth flower for the month of October — so if it’s your birthday this month or the birthday of a friend or loved one, then a packet of seeds is an ideal gift. So is a bite, loving prepared with some of the edible flowers.
Calendula shares its botanic etymology with the word calendar — a reference to it blooming over many months of the year and if you have been dead heading then they are looking especially good now.
Calendulas are traditionally utilised in companion planting to ward off white flies, asparagus beetle and tomato hornworm and to boost the health of nearby plants.
It has a positive effect on the solanaceae family (tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, goji berries etc) and with the cucurbita family (courgettes, pumpkins and squashes etc).
I find my herbs do well within its proximity, and although it is often cited as a bad companion to beans and cabbages, I use it close to Asian greens, Cavolo nero and purple sprouting broccoli in my front of house potager — and they thrive.
Calendulas attract many pollinators and even better they invite in many pest predators including ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies.
Unfortunately they can be prone to aphids themselves, but some garlic spray to hand will sort that in seconds.
The seed can be collected this month — they are noticeable with a straw-coloured tail and a black pointed tip sitting in the brown flower cups of gone over plants.
Seeds germinate readily once soil temperatures reach about 15C. You can sow now or keep in an envelope for next spring, when, placed a quarter of an inch deep, you will only have to wait two weeks for emergence.
Before the frosts arrive in force, you might like to harvest the remainder of the flowers still in bloom to make your own calendula salve.
Traditionally it is made for cosmetic application as a facial cleanser and skin tonic; it soothes tired skin, prevents dehydration and is effective in restoring dry or flaky skin.
It is also highly suitable for acne and other conditions where its anti-fungal and antiseptic qualities are called for.
For we garden-worn and soon to be winter-weathered gardeners, it not only fights against the drying effects of the wind and the battering of the other elements but best of all, soothes chapped hands and tired feet at the end of a long stint. Just follow this simple recipe to make a handy salve for chapped hands and body.
Simply place in a bain-marie:
5tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp almond oil
1 tbsp beeswax (from the health store)
Heat up until all oils melt and merge then add a handful of fresh calendula flowers.
Turn off heat and let infuse overnight. Next morning heat up again to liquid consistency, strain flowers away and let liquid set in jars of your choice.
This weekend is the perfect time to plant fruit trees. But if you have fruit trees it’s the perfect time to tackle the pest of the month — the codling moth (Cydia pomonella).
Adult codling moths are most active over July and August, with a second generation in September and October.
Their larvae burrow into apples, pears, quinces etc. Now is the perfect month to catch both the ‘seconds’ and also those caterpillars leaving the fruits to pupate.
Pathogenic nematodes are at their most effective in September-October when sprayed on the trunk and branches of affected fruit trees.
Codling moths are approximately 1.5cm long, sporting grey wings with brown tips and brown horizontal stripes and somewhat distinctive bronze patches. Their caterpillars are white or yellowish to pink bodied but always black headed.
How you know you have it — maggoty fruit that rots and won’t store. Note that the caterpillar’s exit hole from fruit is most often visible at the ‘eye’ end or calyx (opposite to the stalk end of your fruit) but they can bore out through sides too.
Traditionally pyrethrum (but also garlic spray) will kill Cydia in all stages of development. Pheromone traps (utilising female pheromones) are often used as an early warning system, but they do trap adult males and prevent them mating.
Biological controls of caterpillars include pathogenic nematodes (Steinernema carpocapsae) and visiting insectivorous birds.
Sticky bands, grease collars and corrugated cardboard traps catch and remove larvae before they overwinter.
Companion planting to attract parasitic wasps of the Ichneumonidae family is good practice — including calendulas. Chickens peck out grubs and spiders feed on codling moths in all stages of development.
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