Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
There are two different flowers usually considered birthday flowers for October: cosmos and marigolds, both members of the composite family (Asteraceae). The flowers we usually call marigolds are annuals in the genus Tagetes, although back in the 17th century people would more likely be referring to pot marigold (Calendula spp.), which also has a golden flower and which was used medicinally and as a dye plant.
Marigold foliage has a distinctive fragrance, which helps keep deer and rabbits, as well as some insect pests, away from these plants. Rabbits are plentiful in most Saugus neighborhoods and deer in a few, so this may be an important consideration. Long-stemmed varieties make long-lasting cut flowers. Some species are used in cooking.
The most widely available marigold species, French marigold (Tagetes patula) has double flowerheads, which means that there are many layers of ray florets. This species originated in Mexico, not France. Although they are typically planted here in late May and bloom all through the summer, they often outlast other annuals when the cooler weather of fall comes, and their autumn tones of orange, yellow and red seem especially appropriate to the season. Many popular varieties have flowers which combine two of these colors, although solid yellows or oranges are also widely available.
After the wet summer of 2021, I saw marigold flowers poking up in the front lawn of the library, probably self-sown from the children’s garden planter, and these seedlings managed to bloom at a few inches tall after adapting to the lawn mower’s management of the plant’s height. With this summer’s dry weather, I have not seen as many self-sown plants. There are still plenty of marigolds in bloom planted along front walks or in containers, now keeping company with grinning pumpkins.
African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) are the tallest marigolds and may grow up to four feet high, with large double flowerheads that are almost spherical. Despite their common name, these are also native to Mexico, and they are sometimes called Mexican marigold or Aztec marigold. They may be yellow or light orange, usually one solid color. They are readily available and only a little less common than the French marigolds.
Signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) are tiny, with very feathery foliage, and are often used as an edible garnish on salads and other dishes. They usually have just five petals on their small flowerheads, and a slightly lemon-like flavor. Guess where they’re from? Also Mexico and South America, like the other species above.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and gray birch (Betula populifolia) are both white barked birch species which can be found in Saugus, and their leaves are turning yellow now. Gray birch is found in sandy and gravelly soils, while paper birch prefers forest soils, but their habitats do overlap. Bark color is not especially reliable in distinguishing the species, but leaf shape is quite different – paper birch has a pointed oval leaf shape while gray birch leaves are much more triangular. Young trees and branches do not show the white bark until they are several inches in diameter.
Looking forward to spring, the Saugus Historical Society and Saugus Garden Club joined forces to plant about 175 daffodil bulbs at the Revolutionary War Monument at Saugus Center, where they can be expected to bloom around Patriots’ Day. The daffodils were selected because they bloom at such an appropriate time, but also because they will need little care and are not likely to be eaten by rabbits or squirrels.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.