Try This Marigold

A zillion blooms and lemon-scented leaves make it a savory choice.
Steve Bender

Forgive me, Marigold Society of America (yes, there actually is one), but despite your best efforts to convince me otherwise, I've never cared for common bedding marigolds. Maybe it's because the flowers look clunky, the leaves smell skunky, and many towns have an annoying habit of planting them so their blooms spell things. However, there is one marigold I heartily recommend that you will love in your garden―the signet marigold.

The Secret of Signet
You've probably never heard of it because very few garden centers sell it. Fortunately, this annual can be started very quickly and easily from seeds. In fact, if you sow seeds now directly into the garden about a half-inch deep, you can enjoy flowers all the way into fall.

So what exactly makes signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) special? One thing is its shape. Unlike the stiff, gobby aspect of most bedding marigolds, this one develops a rounded, billowy form about 12 inches tall. Second, although its dime-size flowers are smaller than those of bedding types, they're much more profuse and less brassy. Last but certainly not least, the lacy, finely cut leaves of signet marigold offer a pleasant, citrusy scent.

Real Gems
The most widely grown selections belong to the Gem Hybrids, including 'Lemon Gem,' 'Orange Gem,' 'Red Gem,' and 'Tangerine Gem.' Another good one is an old-fashioned non-hybrid called 'Paprika.' It has maroon flowers with golden edges.

As with other marigolds, give this one full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Watch out for snails and slugs that can devour small seedlings. During extended periods of hot, dry weather, also look for speckled or bronzy foliage, which could indicate the presence of spider mites. Spraying the undersides of leaves with water every few days should control the mites if there aren't too many.

A Leap of Faith
Consider one last feature of signet marigold: According to numerous sources, the flowers are edible and impart a lemony flavor to salads, pasta, and vegetable dishes. I confess that I haven't tried them myself but recall that when I was a kid, my pet box turtle, Kierkegaard, relished marigold flowers. That should settle the matter. It's hard to argue with Kierkegaard.

At a Glance

  • Signet Marigold
  • Type: annual
  • Size: about 12 inches tall and somewhat wider
  • Light: full sun
  • Soil: fertile, well drained
  • Shape: soft, mounding
  • Flower colors: red, yellow, orange, gold, and maroon
  • Why you'll love it: It has lots of blooms and aromatic foliage. Deer don't like it.
  • Goes well with: herbs, angelonias, zinnias, and salvias