DIRT 1: REMINISCENCE (part 3)

By | February 4, 2017
Marigold (Tagetes erecta) 'Moonsong Deep Orange'

Marigold (Tagetes erecta) ‘Moonsong Deep Orange’ with Sedum telephium ‘Autumn Joy’

Now don’t get me wrong, I treasure these sounds and smells of the garden which carry me back to my very first memories as a child working the dirt.  “African” (stay tuned!) Marigolds (Tagetes erecta), with their pungent, slightly fruity foliage odor, were, at age four, the first garden flowers I was taught to recognize by name and by age seven, “French” Petite Mixed marigolds (Tagetes patula) the first annual flowers I raised from seed to bloom.  And the crisp, soapy-peppery smell of zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortulanum) was altogether new to me when I received, that same summer as a birthday gift (thank you, Mom!), several potted specimens among a larger collection of plants. They were grown and sold in clay – was it really that long ago?  Young as I think I am, it amazes me that I’ve been gardening since before the early heyday of that bane of gardeners and recyclers everywhere – Horticultural plastic!  I’m thankful now for the ubiquitous chasing arrows formerly absent from nearly all nursery containers and have even authored a magazine feature about a regional pilot program for Horticultural plastics recycling.  If we must use some plastic, an increasing number of pots and trays are now produced using recyclable polyethylene resins.  For this I am greatly appreciative!

I digress – perhaps you’ll soon become used to it!   What gardener can ignore the unmistakable acrid musk of tomato foliage?  I couldn’t even back then. When planted at the same time as those first marigolds, Tiny Tim tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) were the first edibles I’d raised from seed to fruit.  Later that same summer I discovered the skunky tang of Chrysanthemums or “mums” (Chrysanthemum indicum), cuttings of which I stripped from spent crowns discarded to a neighbor’s compost pile.  Those became the first perennial plant cuttings I successfully rooted in water and grew on to bloom.  I had them for years – taking them with me on the next family move.  All of these are the smells of earthly comfort to me:  reassuring, sensual, deeply permeating, and ever-memorable.

So I never understood why the former W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company  (after multiple ownership changes now part of the Ball Horticultural companies)  and others, back in the post WWII era, were so hot on the trail of the so-called “odorless” marigold.  The most notably available effort of their breeding that still survives to the present seems to be Orange Hawaii, a tall, open pollinated Tagetes erecta selection.  I’ll be sure to rant later about why we ever called this marigold species “African” as it is a native of Mexico and Central America, and why the replacement moniker “American” never seems to have caught on.

Suffice for now that as recently as 1972, Burpee introduced a companion variety to the orange, the again-so-called-odorless Golden Hawaii.  In 1976 the company even received a USDA Plant Variety Protection (PVP) certificate for the golden cultivar, which expired – without fanfare – in 1993.  So the quest for odorless marigolds, meaningless to me, somehow continued at least into the 1970’s.

Then why is not Orange Hawaii a regular fixture in the average home garden?

 (The answer – and  more REMINISCENCE – are in the next post!)

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