At the recent Malnad Mela, I met an elderly gentleman who, growing an organic vegetable garden, had come to the mela specifically looking for flower seeds! He wanted to increase the presence of bees and other natural pollinators in his garden. Not only did this open up an interesting discussion among other visitors, it also got me thinking about the flower-friends of my organic garden.
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Topping that list is Marigold – perhaps the most common and easiest to grow.
Also known as ‘gendha’ or ‘ sendigai poo’ or ‘ chendu hoovu’, Marigolds are commonly described as African, French and dwarf varieties. They are said to have originated in Central America and were brought to India by the Portuguese through their trade route to Goa way back in the 16th century. Ever since, they have created a firm place for themselves here!
Belonging to the sunflower (daisy/aster) family, the marigold is an inexpensive, non-fussy, hardy plant that loves the sun. It does well in most garden soils and can be grown in pots or on the ground. It is often used as a border plant. The bright yellow/orange colour of the flower and the fact that it blooms for so long (it is an annual) makes it a delight to grow.
The Pot marigold (Calendula) on the other hand is a different plant from another genus, though it belongs to the same aster family. It is believed to be a native of Southern Europe and gets its name from the fact that it was grown mainly as a pot herb.
Marigolds are good to have in an organic garden for several reasons
- Their bright blooms attract butterflies that in turn help pollination.
- French Marigolds attract plant-parasitic nematodes (tiny microscopic round worms in the soil that attack the roots of plants) from deep in the soil and when planted as companions to tomatoes, melons or even ornamental plants, protect them from being destroyed by the nematodes. For the same reason marigolds can be grown in pots or in soil where one plans to grow tomatoes next. After the marigold plant matures, working it back into the soil will help suppress nematodes. For maximum effect, the French Marigolds should be planted in large numbers in the garden.
- Due to their strong smell, marigolds are also believed to confuse insects when planted in the garden, thereby protecting plants from insect-attack.
- Pot Marigolds finds use in the kitchen too. The petals were used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron. The dried and crumbled petals can be used in stir-fry dishes, stews, and salads. The carotene is converted to Vitamin A for us humans.
- Marigolds are also used in homeopathy and aromatherapy and for a variety of medicinal purposes.
So get started today and sow some marigolds seeds in your balcony/terrace or yard. Enjoy them as they bloom and mature, then save the seeds for next time. You will have enough to even share with your neighbours over a cup of marigold tea… A friend tells me to steep two teaspoons of petals for 5 minutes in a cup of just-boiled water. Strain and drink…that’s all!⊕