Singing the praises of the underappreciated marigold


August 10, 1991|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

By late summer, my annuual flower bed is fading fast. The poppies are pooped and the cosmos are comatose.

And the marigolds? They bloom on.

By autumn, the garden is really pushing up daisies. I mean, it is dead. The lobelia is lifeless and the petunias are prostrate.

And the marigolds? They bloom on.

Is there a hardier, more dependable flower than the marigold? Neither heat nor drought nor hungry bugs can keep the plant from producing continuous bursts of orange, bronze and yellow.

The marigold's reputation as a tough, vigorous flower makes it a big hit in commercial landscapes. Easily grown, inexpensive and self-sufficient, the marigold is the patron plant of gas stations, banks and burger joints. Mass plantings of yellow marigolds and red salvia in gardens outside its restaurants match the colors of McDonald's arches.

Did I mention food? Marigold petals can be sprinkled in breads, salads and drinks. The marigold is also a hit with vegetable gardeners, who tout the plant as a pest repellent.

The Aztec Indians used marigolds medicinally, to treaeverything from hiccups to poor souls who had been struck by lightning.

The marigold is a model of durability; one type is called a "mule." Yet this hard-working native American plant with the musky scent remains largely unappreciated by the public.

There are 50 state flowers, but the marigold is not among them.

When the country recognized a national flower in 1986, it passed on the marigold, which thrives in all 50 states and was prized by Thomas Jefferson. Instead, the rose won.

Bill Morris cannot understand this. "The marigold is more available, more affordable and more American than the rose," says Mr. Morris. "Besides, I don't like roses."

Mr. Morris is president of the Marigold Society of America, a 300-member fan club that swaps marigold seeds and lore, and whose lofty goal is to place the flower on a 29-cent postage

stamp before the price goes up again.

"Why not?" asks Mr. Morris. "The marigold is known as the international friendship flower. It's grown in massive fields in Russia and China. India uses marigolds in religious services.

"We should put the marigold on a stamp. The best advice we can give the world is, 'Live In Peace.' "

Certainly, Mr. Morris' life is more peaceful since he embraced marigolds, covering the front yard of his home in Davis, Calif., with them.

"We raise marigolds because my wife is allergic to grass, and I' allergic to cutting it," says Mr. Morris. "Really, marigolds use less water than we would need to keep the grass green."

The plants have survived temperatures of 112 degrees this summer, he says.

"Why worry? I've seen marigolds growing in Death Valley."

Marigold mania struck Jane Boning years ago. Mrs. Boning, a charter member of the Marigold Society of America, has landscaped her yard in Lawrenceville, N.J., with as many as 300 home-grown marigolds. Coaxing them from seed is easy, she says.

"People from 4 to 94 can grow marigolds in paper cups," says Mrs. Boning. "Whether they're in grade school or a nursing home, it gives them a good feeling."

What does one do with so many marigolds? Mrs. Boning uses them in cooking muffins and quiches. She makes a tasty green bean salad with unsprayed marigold petals, and she decorates the outside of her angel food cakes with yellow and gold flowers, after removing the musky leaves.

"Marigold flowers have a lovely scent if you strip way the foliage," she says.

Garden slugs will also do that for you. All in all, marigolds have few natural enemies. All they ask is a minimum of six hours of sunlight, some elbow room between plants and an occasional drink of water.

"Businesses are just discovering that marigolds aren't bothereby pollution, and that they don't fizz out after a month of two," says Mrs. Boning. "That's why you see them at filling stations and shopping centers."

Banking institutions love to plant marigolds outside their doors, she says, because "when people leave the bank with very little money, they look at the pretty flowers and don't mind it as much."

To join the organization, send $12 annual dues to: Marigold Society of America, P.O. Box 112, New Britain, Pa. 18901. Members receive quarterly newsletters and new seed varieties each spring. The society's telephone number is (215) 348-5273.

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