Calendula officinalis. We began growing these cheerful garden flowers in our former garden at Kutztown University since they were one of the most iconic flowers in the Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen garden. Called Ringelblum or Ringelros (wreath rose) in Pennsylvania Dutch, their presence in old-time gardens was both culinary and medical, not to mention imbued with all sorts of rich folklore.In the world of Pennsylvania Dutch fairy tales, Ringelros is a flower fairy, the daughter of the fairy queen Schlangefraa (Lady with a Snake), a symbol of beauty and longevity. She protects the garden from danger and misfortune, which is why calendulas were often planted along the pathways leading into houses or kitchen gardens.
This belief traces to the Middle Ages when the calendula was thought to protect the house from disease and pestilence, and as such, the flowers were gathered into wreaths and placed on graves or hung on front doors if there was a contagious disease in the community.The petals are still scattered in soups, and the flowers are eaten with salt and vinegar in salads to strengthen digestion.The flowers were also made into tarts or converted into salves for ailments of the skin. In short, the calendula represented a complete household apothecary.
Our seed selection is called “Pennsylvania Dutch Mix” because the seed represents many the different variations once found in old-time Pennsylvania gardens.Some flowers are double, others are more orange than yellow, but all of them are very strongly flavored since they represent a collection of landraces as opposed to weakly scented hybrids.Their heirloom genes are evident in the robustness of the plants, and if they are deadheaded during the summer, they will bloom continuously right up until the first winter snowstorm. Ours is also unique in that, as seen in the second photograph, it produces what the Dutch call "Flower Fairies", calendula flowers surrounded by arms!
Plants with well-developed roots over-winter in the Dutch Country, but they also self-seed promiscuously.We have bee hives both at Roughwood and at Kutztown, and we have noticed that the bees are particularly fond of these flowers.Start the seed indoors about 3 weeks before the last frost. Calendulas are cold tolerant, so they may be planted out when you plant pansies. Ideal spacing is about 8 inches apart for 16 to 18-inch tall bushy plants.