There is no middle ground with Marigolds. Gardeners either love them or hate them, and even those who hate them plant them anyway because somewhere along the line, we were told they keep those big, ugly hornworms from attacking our tomato plants.
For decades we've been told insects hate the scent of marigolds, which anyone who has stuck their nose inside the center of a sticky, orange flower knows is a distinct, pungent odor that doesn't appeal to many people either. We can't overlook the cultivated varieties that are lemon-scented, but I'm talking about the common orange or yellow marigold here.
I like marigolds and plant them every year, but even in my yard, they are often relegated to the vegetable garden. Even so, I can't resist some of the new varieties that come in shades of white and lemon yellow. Cultivars also can be found in different sizes than the six-inch French marigold we're all so used to seeing. No vegetable garden should be without flowers.
French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are the old-fashioned plants I remember from my childhood. They are small and bushy and although they often stay at around six to eight inches, they can reach as tall as 18 inches if planted in idea situations. The flowers are often orange or yellow with deep mahogany red accents and plants can have either single or double flowers.
A larger variety is the African marigold (Tagetes erecta), growing as tall as four feet with an 18 inch spread and flowers that can be up to five inches in diameter. These are nice middle-of-the-border plants with pale yellow, orange or creamy white flowers.
In between is the Triploid marigold, a cross between the French and the African varieties. The flowers are smaller, around two to three inches and are pom-pom shaped.
And last are the signet marigolds, a small variety with lace-like foliage, and the one with the citrusy scent that isn't quite as offending as the common French marigold.
Even with all of these to choose from, my favorite marigold is not really a marigold at all. It is Calendula, commonly called pot marigold because of the resemblance to the genus Tagetes. Both come from the same family of plants, Asteraceae (also known as Compositae) and both are related to daisies and asters, but that's where the relationship ends.
I know it's confusing, but if you're talking to nursery owners, you may want to use the proper names, Tagetes and Calendula to really get your point across. If you're talking to your friends, just call them marigolds and pot marigolds and be done with it. I like to know what I'm talking about without worrying about whether I'm always botanically correct, yet I want others to know what I'm talking about too.
Calendula is my favorite because of its usefulness. Years ago I wanted to use this plant in my garden for more than just its happy presence, so I steeped a jar full of flowers in olive oil for a couple weeks, blended the oil with melted beeswax and made what I like to consider a pretty good version of a healing balm.
Before it was just a pretty face, Calendula was, and still is, an herb that has been used as a healing plant for quite a long time.
It was just a fun summer project and another way to get something useful from the garden. I poured the mixture into lip-balm containers and small jars I purchased from a local herb farm and passed them out to my friends. Whether they used the stuff or not, they never confessed and I didn't ask. I was just having a good time with my garden.
But I still plant Calendula every summer in the vegetable garden among the chard and onions and near the tomatoes. And I still plant Tagetes alongside the tomatoes, just in case those old insect remedies are really true.