Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Bright, edible calendula blooms year-round

Dear Helen: I’ve been looking for Scotch marigold seeds. Can you help?

D.R.

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You won’t find “Scotch marigold” in seed catalogues or on seed packets, because it’s one of the names sometimes given to calendula (ka-LEN-dew-la). Other names given to this flower are pot marigold and, in times past, Golde.

The plant’s botanical name is Calendula officinalis. Calendula is from Latin, meaning “of the Kalends,” that is, the first of every month, because the plants can be found blooming in almost every month of the year. This is particularly true in their native Mediterranean habitats. The plant does not originate in Scotland.

The term “officinalis” explains much of the plant’s rich history. It’s a descriptive term indicating a useful medicinal or edible plant. The edible petals gave rise to the name “pot marigold.”

In times past, no soup or stew was considered well made without the addition of the dried petals, which were commonly available and also used as a substitute for the more expensive saffron. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the plant we now call calendula was known as “marigold” or “Golde.”

Old English herbals are full of medicinal uses for “marigold,” the original single-flowered, orange or yellow calendula species, now evolved into a variety of colours and bicolours and into double and semi-double forms. Most are excellent cut flowers. The petals make a salad a thing of beauty when scattered over top.

Dear Helen: When taking cuttings from plants in late summer for young specimens to winter over indoors, is it always necessary to arrange a loose plastic cover over them to retain humidity and facilitate rooting? Summer plants I’m thinking of rooting cuttings from next August are fibrous begonias, coleus, fuchsia and zonal geranium.

P.L.

For most plants, a loose plastic “humidity tent” over potted cuttings is standard practice. Bathed in moist air, the cuttings more easily stay hydrated as they begin forming roots.

Ventilation is important, though. Lift the cover regularly to admit fresh air. You’ll know rooting is well underway when the cuttings start putting out fresh growth. As soon as that happens, the cover can be removed.

This method works well for smooth-leaved plants such as fibrous begonias, coleus and fuchsias, but it is not recommended for more fuzzy, felt-leaved plants such as zonal geraniums and dusty miller.

The zonal geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum) especially are prone to a condition called “black leg” — a soil fungus that can infect the bases of the cuttings, at the soil line, and rot buried stems and any roots that might have formed. Infected stems turn black at the soil line.

Furry or felt-like leaves indicate plants with an aversion to moist conditions. Let cuttings taken from them remain uncovered, and keep the soil only minimally moist.

For all cuttings, take care that the potting mix is open-textured and free-draining. Keep it just modestly moist. In wet soils, new roots trying to edge their way into the mix are prone to rotting.

Dear Helen: My perpetual gardening problem is that I keep losing tools. As I move from place to place, I often leave a tool behind and somehow it manages to disappear. I’m sure this happens in many home gardens.

D.T.

Losing tools is a common gardening frustration. I once lost my father’s asparagus knife weeder, a treasured tool, for a year. It turned up in a compost enclosure that I was emptying, along with a missing tea-mug cover. They must have somehow landed in the tub I use for weeds and debris destined for the compost, and were dumped out unseen.

A simple way to keep track of all the tools in use is to store them in an easily carried receptacle of some sort. This could be a bucket, a basket, or a purchased tote designed to be a tool and accessory organizer.

Gardeners’ gift shops and some garden centres carry various styles of these handy carriers. Some are rectangular basket styles with inside and outside pockets for hand tools, labels, seeds and so on. Others fit over buckets and have pockets for similar uses.

Some gardeners, frustrated with constantly searching for a lost tool, paint the handles in alarmingly bright shades of orange, red or yellow. This works well for long-handled tools that don’t fit into a container, as well as for hand tools that disappear all too easily.

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