Marigolds are such a cheerful herb. They’ll self seed everywhere, stand any amount of cold and bad weather, if they haven’t flowered, and there’s hardly a month when you can’t find a plant in flower somewhere. They like sunny open places, and the flowers turn towards the sun if they have a chance, but they don’t seem to be too picky, which makes them a good first plant for children. The strange sickle-shaped seeds are large enough for small hands to manage, too, which makes them a good subject to teach about seed-saving.
The flowers have been used for flavouring and colouring soups and stews, giving a spicy tang and a rich yellow colour much cheaper than saffron. But the big use is for making creams and liniments for skin complaints. Calendula oil (from the Latin name calendula officinalis) is good for rashes, stings, eczema and allergies, and it is supposed to be anti-septic and anti fungal too, though I haven’t had much success with it. Calendula cream is certainly very soothing, and good for gardeners’ hands.
In the garden it attracts hoverflies which eat aphids, and it’s often used as a sacrifice plant to attract blackfly away from beans. In my experience, however, you just get blackfly on the marigolds as well as the beans, but they do brighten the plot! These are not the marigolds which organic gardeners sometimes plant to get rid of pests. The ones you want for that are tagetes minuta- the Spanish marigolds which look a bit tawdry, but which have deep burrowong roots which are alleged to kill off earth-living insects, and even out-compete ground elder and bindweed. I wish, that’s all I can say.