Calendula, the (Deceptively) Humble Pot Marigold

Calendula Wellfleetia
Calendula Wellfleetia

It’s a warm, springlike day when we arrive at the cottage on the Friday before Thanksgiving, But one glance at the garden lets us know that in the three weeks since we’ve been here, the plants have suffered a frost. The last zinnias are withered and dried, their gray foliage stuck flat against the sticks that on our last visit here were living stems supporting pink and yellow blooms. The four o’clocks have died, too, as have the sturdy black-eyed Susans and the once-lacy leaved cosmos. The dahlias are brown and sad-looking, their stems mostly rotted away. We dig them up and stow them in the basement for the winter. The last of the small Japanese maple tree’s leaves have dropped. The nasturtiums have given up, too, and their seed pods are hardened. I pick as many as I can, to dry, for next year’s container gardens.

What’s left of our flowers is the calendula. Bright yellow, or deep orange, with lush green foliage, they line up in a row next to last crop of spicy arugula and four stunted-looking rainbow chard plants. Aside from the last half dozen carrots and the deep green parsley, everything else is either asleep for the winter—the garlic—or gone by.

Those calendula—now in a Beatles coffee mug on the dining table in the cottage, are the last blooms standing. We can’t bear to leave them behind when we go back to town, so they will have to come home with us tomorrow, and spend the week on our kitchen counter.

A cold rain fell steadily all day here, and tonight, the scattered leathery oak leaves are soaking, the first stage in a long process of decomposing. The calendula give us one last bit of summer 2015 in a Made in China mug.

Anti-inflammatory properties, useful as a dye, acne remedy, edible leaves for salads or tea infusions—is there no end to the talents of this humble flower?

Come next March when the Flower Show comes to Boston, I’ll be right back at the Hudson Seed Library booth to buy more packets of seed to grow more of those resilient, faithful ladies.

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