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Journal

Growing and Drying Calendula

If I’m honest, one of the reasons I grow calendula is that it is easy. The name - calendula officinalis - refers to the way that in temperate climates it will bloom every month of the year. It doesn’t quite do that here but there are flowers more months than not. The seeds are large and irregularly shaped - easy for children to handle - and can be grown out in a flower bed or in large pots. Sow in either September to overwinter or March/April. Once you have an established patch you will probably find that it self sows happily. I would love to know how you get on growing calendula and making things from it, such as this balm. Please tag me @snapdragon.life on Instagram or use the hashtag #snapdragonlife.

  • Clear a patch of soil in your garden or pot and rake it level. Draw lines in the soil with a cane - about 15 cm apart. These can be straight or a spiral - the point is that you can see your calendula seedlings following the line and weed everything else out. As the plants grow you won’t see the lines at all.
  • If it is dry weather then carefully water along the lines and allow them to drain.

     

  • Sow 2 seeds every 5 cm along the lines. Smooth the soil gently back over the seeds and water.
  • Thin out the plants as they grow so you end up with one healthy calendula seedling every 10cm

OR...

  • Sow seeds, 2 to a small pot, and keep watering until you see the roots growing through the holes in the bottom. Then plant into a larger pot or out into the garden.
  • Deadhead regularly and they will keep flowering all summer. Or pick flowers for the house, it has the same effect, the more you pick, the more flowers will grow.

My favourite varieties of calendula

Snow Princess - a lovely mix of pale yellows, ranging from buttery cream to lemon.

A Touch of Red Buff - small apricot flowers with red backs to the petals.

Orange King - the classic strong orange marigold - massses of petals make it perfect when you want to make balms and oils.

Sherbet - another pale small flowered marigold that fits well into a more subtle garden.

Indian Prince - reddish orange petals and small flowers - this fits well with reds, purples and lime green in the classic bright and rich border.

How to dry calendula

  • It is easy to dry calendula as you can keep the heads intact. You can also use a dehydrator if you have one.
  • Choose a dry day so that there is no dew or rain on the petals.
  • Cut the flowers off the stems - as close to the head of the flower as possible.
  • Spread the flowers out on grids close together, but so they are not touching.
  • Put the grid somewhere warm - an airing cupboard is ideal.
  • Leave for 2-4 weeks until completely dry.
  • You can either leave as whole flowers of pull the petals off.
  • Store in a wide wide necked jar or use in recipes.

We have put together a beautiful box with everything you need to grow your own calendula and make your own calendula balm - you can find it here.

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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
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I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
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This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
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It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
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When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
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The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
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The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
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My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
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Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
Abundance.⁠⠀
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And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
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My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
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So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
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I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
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I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
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It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
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My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
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Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
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Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
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But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
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This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
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This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
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White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
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The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
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Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
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We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
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Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
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Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
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It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
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Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
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Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
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So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
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An attempt to keep momentum.
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

Learn more about why here

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