Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

The Legend of Marigolds


Hello Fellow Readers, I recently shopped for annuals for Ron of Stillwater, NJ, who wished for bright hues. Previously he planted marigolds. I haven’t used them for years, likely due to a childhood memory of my first garden – primarily marigolds grown from seed. “Mary’s Gold,” I called them. I wore out a path around the rectangular plot rushing to weed it in time for judgment day (for 4-H, that is**).

Marigolds are deer resistant and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They’re often companion plants in vegetable gardens to control insects and nematodes. And are used as a spice in cooking. Golden flowers are fed to chickens to yellow up their yolks.

French-Marigolds- Tagetes-patula

French Marigolds plants are shorter and more broadly spreading than African Marigolds.

French Marigolds (Tagetes patula) are shorter and broader than the African Marigolds (T. erecta), also known as Aztec Marigolds—named after the Aztecs. They used them for ceremonial and medicinal purposes long ago. Their large pom-poms of happy face blooms sit above dark green foliage that grows up to three feet tall. Besides the iconic golden yellow, there are creamy-white and orange African Marigolds.


Antigua Gold African Marigolds (Tagetes-erecta)

Signet (single) Marigold blooms (T. tenuifolia) remind me of coreopsis flowers and are edible, adding a tarragon flavor to salads. They’re lacier looking than the others and have a lemon scent but fade in the high heat of summer. If you sheer them back by about a third, they’ll rebloom when the temperatures cool.

Triploid hybrids are a cross between the African and French marigolds (T. erecta x T. patula). Some call them Mule Marigolds because they can’t reproduce. Their blooms last longer because they don’t go to seed and do well in the heat.

I shared my long hiatus from marigolds with Holly of Blairstown, who works at a local nursery. She told the story of their significance in the Day of the Dead known as Día de Muertos, celebrated for centuries in Mexico – a joyful commemoration from October 31st to November 2nd flooded with the glorious vibrant yellow, gold, and orange hues of marigolds. Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day overlap.


Holly of Race Farm, Blairstown NJ, shared the story of marigolds’ significance in the Day of the Dead celebration.

“During the Day of the Dead, if you don’t remember your loved one, it’s as if they died twice,” Holly said. Loved ones that passed away are believed to be soulfully present in the celebration.

Stemming from a long-ago legend, Marigolds became the theme flower for the Day of the Dead. Two Aztec children who grew up together loved to explore a mountaintop nearby. While there, they presented flowers to the Sun God, who in return would “smile from the sky with warm rays,” writes As they grew into adults, they fell in love and swore to each other that their love would never end.

Huitzilin goes off to war and dies in battle. Devastated, Xóchitl returns to the mountaintop and prays to the Sun God to bring them back together. A ray of sunshine kisses her cheek and transforms her into a flower as bright as the sun. Then, a hummingbird suddenly appears and touches the flower. Her twenty petals are instantly open. As the story goes, their love will remain if marigold flowers and hummingbirds stay on earth.

Learning about the legend renewed my admiration. A tray of Aztec Marigolds now sits ready to be planted in the rock garden, where I will celebrate every hummingbird’s arrival. Garden Dilemmas?

** Click About Mary for a story about my garden past :^)


Planting Day of “Mary’s Gold” – African-Marigold (Inca 11 Orange) planted with Zinnia (Profusion Gold)

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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