Sometimes old flower varieties are best left in the past, because improved versions are, well, improvements. Newer types might have improved vigor with larger flowers, better disease resistance or longer blooming season, so planting the older versions can be disappointing.
But there are a few very old flower varieties that need no improvement, yet they’ve teetered on the edge of extinction as time passage has made them well-kept secrets, often turning heads in royal gardens and botanical plantings.
Lemon Gem Marigold is like that. It’s a different species, and is so unlike other marigolds it’s often unrecognized. And it was first introduced in 1798.
I first saw Lemon Gem about 50 years ago and have been a fan ever since. My wife, Mary, and I used to grow it for sale in our greenhouse business, and we still include it in our home flowerbeds. It always invites a “what is that?”
Lemon Gem Marigold:
- Grows in neat mounds, great for edges of flowerbeds. Can be grown in individual mounds or in a neat row.
- Height is only 9 to 12 inches.
- Mounded plants are covered with tiny, bright yellow blossoms.
- Blooms all season.
- Foliage is bright, fresh green and fern-like. Very attractive.
- Fresh citrus scent to foliage and flowers.
- Grows well in containers, either singly or in combination planters.
- Great for sunny, hot locations. Full sun or at least half-day sun is best.
- Low-maintenance. Deadheading isn’t needed.
Where to find Lemon Gem Marigold?
- Some locally owned garden centers carry it as a spring bedding plant. Rarely, if ever, seen at national chain garden centers.
- Easy to start from seed. Seed is readily found in mail order seed catalogs. Start seeds about April 1 indoors for transplanting out into flowerbeds during the last half of May.
- Lemon Gem Marigold seed is sometimes found on seed racks in the “heirloom” flower section.
Lemon Gem is in a class called Signet Marigolds, Tagetes tenuifolia. There are several other Gem marigolds, with similar characteristics as Lemon Gem: Tangerine Gem, Red Gem and Golden Gem. They’re pretty, but in my opinion, Lemon Gem is still the most eye-catching.