Container idea: Fruit salad up north

Basil and marigolds

Basil (Ocimum bacilicum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’) with ‘Tangerine Gem’ marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) in a planter within the potager of Reford Gardens.

I didn’t think of marigolds as a salad ingredient until I visited the vegetable and herb garden at Les Jardin de Metis, also known as Reford Gardens. The ‘potager‘ as it’s called there (hey, it is in Quebec) is a screaming example of how things you can eat can also make the most incredibly beautiful garden. The small, fenced-in plot (see below) was crammed with rows of spectacular plants flowering in abandon, many taller than me, but my eyes were drawn to a plain square wooden plant container filled with two relatively humble plants: basil and marigolds.

The garden’s guide pointed out that, back in the day when importing oranges and lemons to the frontiers of Canada was unheard of, cooks would grow herbs and edible flowers that approximated the taste of citrus fruits. Pop a flower bud from a Tangerine Gem marigold (shown at left) in your mouth and you get a tiny explosion of orange-zesty flavour. Stroke the leaves and a waft of tangerine scents the air.

Next spring, try sprinkling a mix of Lemon Gem marigolds (yup, they taste like lemons) and Tangerine Gem seeds in a pot. With tiny, dime-sized blooms and surprisingly fine, feathery leaves, the combo delivers brilliant colour with a soft touch. Their wonderful citrus-y scents make them natural insect repellants, too. So place the container next to your outdoor seating for the ultimate patio planter trifecta: hot colour, tangy scents and less bugs–from spring to frost. Oh–and you’ve got a never-ending supply of salad garnish.

Note that Tagetes tenuifolia are sometimes labelled as Signet marigolds or Tagetes signata pumila. What’s in a name? Just a little confusion. So long as you score Tangerine Gem and Lemon Gem marigolds, you’re laughing.

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