I found a little plant in a nursery the other day, covered in pretty blooms (which is pretty impressive these cool mornings; 1°C two mornings ago; brrr). `It flowers all year' said the nurseryman, `although it needs an annual haircut to stop it getting leggy'.
David Glenn writes that it is a `terrific plant for colour and fragrance in the depths of winter'. It tolerates light frosts without damage, I'm told, and it's drought-tolerant, too.
What is this floriferous paragon you ask? It's tree marigold (above, Tagetes lemmonii) , Mountain Marigold or Mexican Mary's Gold. And gold it is: a bright amber, not quite orange and not pure yellow.
I'd actually planted one in my yellow edible patch a little while ago, and then been surprised that my little hens didn't eat it to death or scratch it up when I moved them onto that bed. The deliciously scented leaves are not to their taste and let's face it, if they don't eat it, it's probably inedible to humans, too...a pity, I'd started thinking about making a tea from the fragrant leaves. (Will anyone be my guinea pig?) But like other marigolds, the pretty flowers are edible, I'm told (pick them early in the day), and wouldn't these petite blooms look great in a salad?
So I've moved my tree marigold (which it tolerated well) from what's now become a purple bed (purple peas and purple carrots, `red' kale and black...), and tossed it into the end of the yellow bed (behind the wigwams for butter beans or, just now, yellow peas) and popped another three in there too.
They will reach around 1.5m high and about the same across.
So...I'm going to let them flower madly through the relatively dull days of winter...and maybe trim them in spring when there's so much else happening in the garden.
I love this effortless way to make the veg garden, as you walk along the path, go from cream to lemon, yellow to gold.
Along the path edge, adding to the colour scheme perfectly, are pansies and I'm trying snapdragons too. Low chamomile is planted between the bluestone pavers: with little poached egg daisy flowers in spring over soft green, aromatic, rather delicate-looking leaves. (This herb can have a `soothing' tea made from the foliage.) It's lawn chamomile, so it'll take a bit of walking on, though I'll avoid that as much as I can.
Some soft green Chinese cabbages like Won Bok (above, growing well from their mid-autumn planting, while the soil still had some warmth) look just right behind the path edging of edible flowers (I chop it up for a stir fry, see below) and there's some golden chard, too.
And my tree marigold? Folklore has it that marigolds repel a number of insects; and the flowers can be used in salads, cakes, and teas.
But much more important: how wonderful to know that there are some perennials (subshrubs, really) that are permanent in the edible patch - not just the lavenders and globe artichokes. So...the veg garden is getting more and more pretty.
How good is that?
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (www.jillweatherheaddesign.com.au)