Friday, May 27, 2011

why i plant marigolds

The spring of my junior year at St. John's in Santa Fe, I moved into a little house with my friend, Eilen.  We had lived together before in a big house filled with cranky roommates and lots of conflict, and we were eager to set up on our own where we could cook and sing and do anything we pleased.  We found a house on Cortez Street, which was just slightly on the wrong side of the tracks, enough so that there were fireworks exploding in adjacent yards all summer, but not so much that it was too far away from school. The house was a perfect little square with a front stoop, adobe of course, but newly renovated by a St. John's graduate who had stayed in the area, and there was new paint and fresh tile in the bathroom, and the back room had a washer and dryer with a tiled laundry folding table built on top. It was small, which is to say that it was exactly big enough for us, and there was a guest house that shared the property about 20 feet from the back door. That space served as a house and workshop to a crazy old guy named Elliot, and he and his huge and poorly behaved dog made leather goods and drank beer through most of each day.  We would sit in our dusty section of "yard" and he would sit in his, and we would listen to the fireworks explode around us.

I miss Santa Fe.

Diagonally across from the house was one of my favorite restaurants, a greasy green chile spoon called Dave's Not Here. The story, as I remember it, was that the owner, Dave, ended up getting busted on drug charges and going to jail.  The restaurant stayed open, but as an answer to everyone's question when they noticed Dave's absence, they changed the name of the restaurant. The food wasn't particularly good there, but it always tasted good anyway, and the decor reminded me of some kitchen or other from my childhood, and so I always felt so at home there.  Dave's Not Here lived in that space for over 20 years, but now the place houses The Tune-Up Cafe, which I hear from many people is hands down the best restaurant in Santa Fe.

I'm thinking it might be time for a trip back.

Eilen and I lived  happily in that house on Cortez Street. That was the year that she really started writing music, and she had some of her first little shows at the Cowgirl. I met Joey that year too, and even though there was all sorts of drama around the start of us together, enough time has passed that I only remember the happy parts. There was a big plum tree out front, and for some reason we never made it to the fruit on time, but there was a silly satisfaction in stomping all over the rotting fruit on the driveway. Eilen planted tiny tomato plants in the dusty back plot that got munched by the misbehaving dog and never made it to fruition. But in the dry front bed, right between our own section of stone wall and the width of sidewalk, she planted marigolds.

At first I thought that marigolds were not my kind of flower. Spindly and orange, the petals lacked delicacy, and the smell of the plants was acidic and strange. Eilen showed me how to coax the roots out of their ball, and we put compost in each hole and tucked the plants into the bed. It seemed a little mean to put them into such a desert where nothing else seemed to be able to grow. We were in the most extreme level of drought at the time, and we weren't allowed to water.  But Eilen seemed to have faith that they would make it anyway, as long as we gave them what we could from our leftover bath water and water bottles.

They lived all summer, and they filled out the bed with greenery. Every so often, the flowers would get so dry that we'd figure they were done with. but we'd pour our cooled pasta water or some other thing over their parched roots, and they would come back to life. By the end of the summer, I thought they were so beautiful, and I have planted them ever since.

Some marigolds are edible, and others are used for pest management in the garden. If you plant them in the midst of your vegetables, they will protect them from a whole host of bugs.  In Mexico, marigolds are essential for the alter for the day of the dead, and in India, they are considered a holy herb, and festivals are filled with marigold garlands. I love them for their usefulness, but I also just love them for their humble little petals. I love the way the sun seems to shine from them instead of on them.

And with Memorial day weekend comes the green light to plant anything you want, even if you are in New England! Is there any thing you are especially excited to plant this weekend? Tell me! I still have room in one bed...


  1. Just last weekend I had a whole 2 days in the garden, and I planted marigolds, and cauliflower, and collards, and lavender, and rosemary, and basil, and oregano (Italian), and mint (spear & pepper), and some other flowers including foxy digitalis and I don't remember the other one's name, but it is going to look awesome according to the picture. The girls who live upstairs from us have an annual Memorial Day tradition, too, which they call the "Never Ender Bender." Please cross your fingers for my poor little plants!

  2. I put marigolds in our gardens to protect the other plants, but some creature munches the flowers each night so I never get to enjoy them. I suspect a skunk... I like your story though, I felt like I was there :) Perhaps our families should rendesvous in Santa Fe soon :)

  3. I read this the day after I broke down and planted some myself. They are a bit different than the ones I'm used to in my dad's vegetable garden. These ones have teeny flowers - as delicate as I have ever seen a marigold. Actually, I hope they even are marigolds, I'm counting on them to discourage bugs.

  4. I've lived in Colorado for more than twenty years with a couple of small breaks, and just brought home my very first columbine to plant. We have a bump out beyond a big blue spruce on the corner that is very very parched. The dirt is crummy, and I just scooped a bunch of our black gold compost out of our compost bin, shoved it in a dry, clay hole, mixed it together, and released that columbine there. I am really rooting for it. It gets a drip line, so I'm not leaving it quite as stranded, but it is very toasty out there when the weather isn't acting like Portland. I'll let you know next May if it comes back, then we'll know if a columbine can survive there!

  5. My husband is from Colorado, and he has a special love for the columbine. They grow here and there in New England--I've been meaning to put one in for him!