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Lee Reich AP
The small flowers of Lemon Gem marigold, a different species from common marigolds, stare out like stars from a backdrop of ferny foliage. | AP Photo/Lee Reich

Lemon Gem marigold offers unusual foliage, flowers


Marigold is among the most widely planted and, hence, mundane of flowers. Yet I enjoy them as an essential part of summer with their yolk-like blooms and pungent foliage.

For those who are bored by marigolds, as well as those who love them, let me introduce Lemon Gem and its kin.

Lemon Gem is unlike most familiar marigolds. It belongs to a different species, in fact, than the French or African marigolds soon to open their sunny heads in gardens almost everywhere. Those marigolds you grow for their flowers — large, solid-color pompoms in the case of the African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), and smaller, sometimes multicolored single or double flowers in the case of the French marigolds (T. patula).

A gem of a plant

Lemon Gem is one variety of the so-called Signet marigolds (T. tenufolia), which you might grow just for their leaves. The plants are dainty, no more than about 8 inches high, with leaves that have a ferny texture and bright green color. Lemon Gem leaves also reputedly have a lemony aroma, although my nose has never picked it up.

The ferny leaves are a perfect background for knitting together various parts of a flower bed or mixed border. They would be ideal for a knot garden, the kind of garden that has narrow rows of dense, low-growing plants patterned into a two-dimensional design.

Lemon Gem isn’t the only Signet marigold on the block. Look also for Tangerine Gem, Red Gem and others.

Other foliage marigolds

Speaking of marigold leaves, let’s look for one moment at two other marigold species notable for leaves. The leaves of Spanish tarragon (T. lucida) have an anise scent and are grown as a substitute for real tarragon where it’s too hot or humid for that plant. Besides its use as flavoring, Spanish tarragon has also been recommended — in a 16th century herbal — for hiccups and for crossing water safely.

Irish Lace (T. filifolia) is the other species of foliage marigold, this one with lacy leaves not unlike that of Lemon Gem. Irish Lace has a sweet, anise-y flavor, good for tea, as a flavoring or just for nibbling. (No marigold should be consumed in too great a quantity.) Both Spanish tarragon and Irish lace also bear flowers, but tiny white ones that are hardly worth a mention.

Lemon Gem flowers

Back to Lemon Gem: Besides being a compact mound of dainty greenery, Lemon Gem does indeed bear flowers. Pretty ones.

Each flower is half an inch across, single and lemon yellow. You might think nothing of them from this description, but they pop out profusely through the foliage, each staring out against the verdant backdrop like a star twinkling in the night sky. In my garden, Lemon Gem always stops visitors in their tracks and elicits the question, “What is that plant?”

Like other marigolds, Lemon Gem is easy to grow. I sowed seed indoors about a month ago, but you could just plant it outdoors now. Sown directly in the garden, the first blossoms are a bit delayed, but marigolds are precocious, so the plants bloom in just a few weeks anyway. Once blossoming is underway, the show continues into fall. Marigolds are rarely bothered by pests, including deer.

Consider planting some seeds of Lemon Gem or the other Signet marigolds and see how you like them.



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