All summer long I've been bowled over by the wonderful bright orange blooms of the calendula (aka Pot Marigold) in the veg patch. The seeds were sown in late May and took a while to get going but have really been making up for it over the past three months and the plants are still flowering abundantly in early November!
The colour is such an intense orange that, despite taking numerous photos over the summer, I've never felt that they've done the flowers justice. This afternoon, just as the light was fading around 3.30 and rain threatened, I quickly tried once more and, this time, I'm quite pleased with the result. You can just see the start of the raindrops on the petals!
Mine were grown to bring in the hoverflies and bees and did an excellent job but they also, apparently, reduce soil eelworm. They're a beautiful flower to look at, growing to about 18 inches high, but calendula is a herb and I really should have used it in cooking. (There's still time.)
Fresh calendula petals can be sprinkled over salads and boiling the petals produces an edible yellow dye that will colour rice, hence the nickname "poor man's saffron". Dried petals can also be used to season and flavour soups and cakes. The petals should be picked early in the morning (preferably on a bright, sunny day but I think I may be a tad late for that) and dried quickly in the shade. As a bonus, the flowers are high in vitamins A and C which I didn't know before and is useful information to have at the onset of winter. Similarly, tea made from the petals will aid circulation (useful) or can be used as a hair rinse to add golden tones to auburn hair. (Not so useful, and unlikely to have me reaching for the secateurs.) Something worth noting for next year is that calendula is a good companion plant for tomatoes. Wow, I love the idea of all those reds and oranges growing together!
Year on year I get a bit more organised around planning in the veg patch so it's worth knowing that calendula seeds, like sweet peas and broad beans, can be sown in the autumn to give them a head start for the following year. If they're happy where they are, they're highly likely to self-seed and I did have one or two from last year so, together with self-seeding sunflowers, nasturtiums, orache and cerinthe, it looks like the veg patch might slowly be turning into the flower garden!