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June 16, 2014

A gem of a plant

Marigold is among the most widely planted and, hence, mundane of flowers.

Yet I enjoy them as an essential part of summer with their yolk-like blooms and pungent foliage.

For those who are bored by marigolds, as well as those who love them, let me introduce Lemon Gem and its kin.

Lemon Gem is unlike most familiar marigolds. It belongs to a different species, in fact, than the French or African marigolds soon to open their sunny heads in gardens almost everywhere.

Those marigolds you grow for their flowers — large, solid-color pompoms in the case of the African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), and smaller, sometimes multicolored single or double flowers in the case of the French marigolds (T. patula).

LEMONY AROMA

Lemon Gem is one variety of the so-called Signet marigolds (T. tenufolia), which you might grow just for their leaves. The plants are dainty, no more than about 8 inches high, with leaves that have a ferny texture and bright green color.

Lemon Gem leaves also reputedly have a lemony aroma, although my nose has never picked it up.

The ferny leaves are a perfect background for knitting together various parts of a flower bed or mixed border. They would be ideal for a knot garden, the kind of garden that has narrow rows of dense, low-growing plants patterned into a two-dimensional design.

Lemon Gem isn’t the only Signet marigold on the block. Look also for Tangerine Gem, Red Gem and others.

OTHER FOLIAGE MARIGOLDS

Speaking of marigold leaves, let’s look for one moment at two other marigold species notable for leaves. The leaves of Spanish tarragon (T. lucida) have an anise scent and are grown as a substitute for real tarragon where it’s too hot or humid for that plant. 

Besides its use as flavoring, Spanish tarragon has also been recommended — in a 16th century herbal — for hiccups and for crossing water safely.

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