Monday, October 22, 2012

Rediscovering Marigolds

Marigolds are very easy to grow from the seeds. For as long as I can remember when I was growing up in India, marigolds were very much a part of Indian culture. Year after year, we used to grow marigolds in front of our house in our village because they were very inexpensive and easy to grow from seeds.  For all the festivals in Indian villages, the doorways were decorated with marigold garlands. The most popular backdrop for any Indian wedding - mandaps are marigold garlands. By the time I came to America, I think I was over loaded with marigolds.

After moving to America, I have to admit that I was looking down upon marigolds. Ever since we moved to California, marigolds were forgotten flowers in my garden. I was more interested in growing exotic flowers such as birds of paradise, orchids and proteas.  I didn't think marigolds were challenging enough for me to grow. There is a name for people like me,  floral snobs.

Now that I have started growing everything organically in my garden, I have completely stopped useing insecticides in my edible garden. Then I read an article about "companion planting". Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted next to, or close to, one another. According to this article, African marigolds, along with other plants, are well known for companion planting, as they exude chemicals from their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants. I realized that the natural way to keep away aphids in my kitchen garden is by planting marigolds along with vegetables. Now I have taken a second look at marigolds, not as a celebration flower for religious ceremonies nor as a backdrop for Indian weddings, but as a companion plant. I started sowing seeds all around the raised beds in my kitchen garden. I thought I was planting a dwarf variety of marigolds. My intention was to plant a colorful edge (that is both aesthetically pleasing and an aphid repellent) to my vegetables in raised beds. To my surprise, the seeds that I sow turned out to be a tall variety, blooming profusely, turning my fall vegetable garden into a a sight to be hold. By fall, the companion plants became the main attraction in the garden. Yes, I visit kitchen garden more often than before not only to harvest, but also to enjoy colorful and vibrant marigolds. I feel like I am in marigold heaven. Now I wonder why I didn't grow marigolds all these years.

Eggplants with marigolds

Chilies with marigolds

Ridge gourd vine with marigolds

Stay tuned for more design ideas with marigolds in future posts.

Trader Joe's Simply Indian (both printed and kindle version) is available to buy at Amazon.

For more memorable centerpieces, tablescapes, and recipes (including vegetarian, gluten free and vegan recipes), please check out my book, Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen, at my website
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