As the embryonic seed leaves of Calendula officinalis show themselves, the growing season seems to have arrived at last. These cotyledons have photosynthesized above the soil’s surface to supply nourishment to the seedling until the plant’s first true leaves appear. At that time, the seedlings will need to be transplanted into a nutritious growing medium in order to thrive. It’s a good thing Connie has some worm castings saved up for just such a purpose.
Calendula, a member of the Asteraceae family, has long been cultivated for its medicinal properties and sheer delightfulness. Its bright orange and yellow flowers contain a sticky resin that has been shown to possess antibacterial and wound-healing activity. The plant will self-sow readily and also provides ample opportunities for seed collection. The blooms, which will continue throughout the summer and early fall, are edible and attract beneficial insects to the garden.
This garlic, planted last December by a gang of feisty 4-year-olds, has found its way out of the soil. Situated in a raised bed near the school and mulched with straw, the bed was slightly disheveled by a run-in with a snow plow sometime during the long winter. A bit of muscle put it back in place.
Garlic, Allium sativum, is an indispensable ingredient in many types of cuisine. Garlic thrives in our coastal cool summer climate, and a winter’s supply can easily be cured and stored. Garlic possesses antimicrobial activity and has been touted to improve cardiovascular health by reducing arterial plaque formation and inhibiting platelet aggregation.
Among the garden’s multiple goals is the cultivation of a diverse selection of edible, beautiful, and medicinal plants that attract and provide homes for beneficial insects and pollinators, feed the school’s students and staff, and offer an inviting setting for garden learning. If the garden is to be successful, it must also contain elements of self-sustainability and renewable fertility. In addition to garlic and calendula, below is a small selection of flora that may aid in the achievement of these intents.
Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum. Native to the North American Great Plains, anise hyssop is an herbaceous perennial with a low tolerance for harsh winters. Anise hyssop tends to self-sow so it’s likely to return regardless of the winter’s severity. Its leaves are sweetly anise-scented and make a fine tea when dried or lovely sun tea when fresh. The leaves are also an intriguing salad addition. In mid- to late-summer, anise hyssop’s purple blooms attract bees, butterflies, and curious children.
Marshmallow Althaea officinalis. A member of the Malvaceae family that includes our common native mallows, Althaea is indigenous to Africa. The three-year-old roots of this plant are often harvested for their mucilage-rich qualities that soothe sore throats and other irritated mucous membranes. Prior to the days of gelatin and corn syrup, marshmallow sweets were made from this root. Marshmallow flowers are small and white with pink centers and are favorites of the ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Lemon balm Melissa officinalis. Lemon balm is another long-cultivated garden favorite native to central southern Europe. A mint-family herb, lemon balm, as its name suggests, is delicately lemon-flavored and makes a superb tea that is thought to soothe and relax those who imbibe. Its genus name, Melissa, which comes from the Greek word for ‘honey bee,’ hints at the plant’s attractiveness to pollinators, who will surely be found gayly buzzing about lemon balm’s inconspicuous white flowers in the mid-summer sun.
Comos Cosmos bipinnatus. The joyful pink and white blooms of Cosmos bipinnatus are a familiar sight in late summer gardens. Their delicate citrus scent makes them perfect for bouquets. The yellow-centered blossoms attract lacewings, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps, all of which prey on potentially harmful insects in the garden and pose no threats or annoyances to humans.
Nigella Nigella damascena. Love-in-mist, as nigella is called by the whimsical seed catalog professionals, is indigenous to southern Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia, where it is found on wet, disturbed soils. Nigella, with its lacy, fern-like foliage and striking blossoms, grows readily in gardens. This buttercup-family plant provides a home for butterfly larvae and edible seeds for human use. Nigella will self-sow eagerly (but not too eagerly) and supply fistfuls of potential bouquets.
For more on beneficial insects and how to attract them to the garden, a helpful fact sheet from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension can be found here.