Do you have Mary’s Gold growing in your garden?
“Winking Mary-buds begin to open their golden eyes;
With everything that pretty is,
My lady sweet, arise!”
— William Shakespeare, “Cymbeline,” ca. 1610
Shakespeare often used flowers as symbols of female beauty. For example, in this passage from “Cymbeline,” “Mary-buds” are used to compare the “lady sweet” with the “golden eyes” of marigolds.
In Shakespeare’s time, the flowers were also called “Mary’s gold,” a biblical reference to their brightness, which was said to resemble the golden halo often pictured encircling the Virgin Mary’s head.
Shakespeare’s marigolds are English marigolds, also called pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), which are natives of the Mediterranean and were first cultivated in England around the 13th century. Calendulas are named for the Latin word calend, or month’s end, because the annuals bloom throughout several months of the year.
English marigolds have long been associated with the sun because their orange and yellow petals open and close every day with the rising and setting of the sun. In another of Shakespeare’s plays, “The Winter’s Tale,” Perdita includes marigolds in the herbs she passes out to visitors. She explains, “The marigold that goes to bed with the sun, and with him rises weeping; these are flowers of middle summer.”
The species name, officinalis, means “from the apothecary,” a term applied to flowers that were grown in the herb garden for healing. Calendulas were also traditionally used to color butter and to thicken soups. The petals are edible and make a great garnish for salads.
I’m growing calendula in The Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm and in my pollinator garden at home. I have three cultivars: ‘Zeolights,’ ‘Goldstar’ and ‘Corniche,’ all grown by direct seeding in early spring. I plant them in well-draining soil in full sun, mulch, water moderately, and remove spent flowers during the growing season to promote more blooms until frost.
I leave the last calendula flower heads intact to overwinter, so they provide forage for birds and pollinators. The leftover seeds produce a fresh batch of flowers the following season. Calendula seeds are large, so they are easy to harvest and store.
My calendulas aren’t bothered much by insect pests or diseases. In fact, they are deer resistant and make a good companion plant in my vegetable garden.
In addition to the common yellow and orange calendula flowers, there are newer cultivars in a variety of shades. My ‘Zeolights’ have bronzy-orange flowers that fade to light pink. The ‘Flashback’ series comes in bicolors and tricolors, including coppery-peach and cream flowers of ‘Solar Flashback,’ and double pink, orange, yellow and maroon flowers of ‘Triangle Flashback.’
I’ll look forward to trying out some calendula ‘Flashbacks’ next year. For now, I’ll enjoy the drama my English marigolds add to my garden for months to come.
Check out the English marigolds and other flowers mentioned in some of Shakespeare’s plays in The Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm. Self-guided tours are available during summer Sundays at the Farm from noon to 4 p.m. through Sept. 2, at 1053 Hanley Road in Central Point. For more information, see www.sohs.org.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.