March 12, 2014
From the Garden: Of iris and marigold
It is at this time of year that nature holds its breath. Too soon to bid the winter storms farewell and yet we are surrounded by the harbingers of spring. Jonquils dance their breezy ballet and crocus huddle close to the still cold ground. This week the first of the reticulate Iris (Iris reticulata) have come to bloom. This tiny denizen of the Anatolian plain in faraway Turkey is so named from the netted husk that encloses the bulb. As its nativity is in an arid region of the world, the bulb must remain relatively dry through the summer months to set its bloom. It has a remarkably sweet fragrance but you must stoop low to delight in it.
We took the potted marigolds (Calendula officinalis) from the frame as the weather has warmed and their bright yellow flowers are a welcome addition. This is the marigold of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale “that goes to bed wi’ th’ sun, And with him rises weeping.”
It has long been assumed that it was the flower favored by the blessed Virgin and hence its name but it appears that marigold originated not with the Calendula genus but rather as an adaption of the Anglo-Saxon merso-meargealla, for what is now known as the Marsh Marigold (Caltha pulustris).
However, the plant most commonly known by this appellation today is actually a New World plant, brought back from Mexico by the Spanish and known in England as the French marigold (Tagetes patula).
Our plant is often distinguished from the crowd as the Pot Marigold in allusion to its use by the poorer sort as a saffron substitute. It species name, officinalis, designates it as a plant of some medicinal value. Among its many uses Culpeper recommends, “A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog’s-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not.” Only the common deep orange-flowered variety is of medicinal value.