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Plants I've Known

These are the stories of the plants I’ve known.


Marigolds + Motivation

Austin H Howard

Marigold + Motivation


Given Name: Marigold Island

Home: My front yard

Scientific Name: Tagetes

Family: Asteraceae

Maintenance: I just dropped the seeds and BOOM. They like full sun and need good drainage. More info for care here.

Propagation: Good ol’ sowin’.

Toxicity: Marigold flowers and leaves are considered safe to eat by humans and are commonly used as culinary herbs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, pot marigolds are also not considered toxic to puppies when ingested or touched. There are many types of marigold, and I suggest — if you really want to know the toxicity of your plant — you look it up by variety to be sure. Here’s a good place to start.

Fun Fact: There are some 50 species but most common marigolds come from just three: Agetes erecta, T. patula, and T. tenuifolia.


The Story

behind how these beauties found their home in my yard is interesting … that’s why I’m writing a blog about it.

This past spring I bought a huge bag (okay, I bought five bags) of mixed flower seeds. They’re “super easy to grow/throw and sow” seeds. Literally the package says to spread them out on top of your soil, rake them in, and watch them grow.


Insert me daydreaming of myself running through lush patches of wild flowers, wind blowing the sweet scent of a million flowers all around me as I skip merrily…

It’s like a fucking musical in my front yard.

In reality, I spread three, maybe four bags of seeds between my front and side yards. The plan was to create “flower patches” that in the above-mentioned fantasy would look natural and wild, untameable, just like me.

(Yeah, I can’t read it without a laughing either.)

My inspiration for the elaborate wonderland was the yard of our previous home, where my former landlady perfected the balance of wild and tame. Needless to say, I had grandiose dreams for my garden.

And like all great expectations, I was left a wee bit disappointed. Weeks ticked by, then a month, and nothing really sprouted. I saw some random weeds and then two more months passed and I was peeved that I didn’t have the 20 or 50 different types of the flowers the bag promised.

To be fair:

A. I didn’t know what plants to expect - because who has time to read the entire seed list on the back of a one pound bag of mixed seeds?

B. I had never grown most of those plants.

So when I realized the weeds I had been whacking were marigolds.... let’s just say I felt like a horrible person - and an idiot.

Yep, I still feel that way (But those negative thoughts aren't helpful).

So, I redirected my negative thought pattern: This is a learning experience and something good is going to come out of it aside from my Marigold Island (which, I love, and has brought me joy every day since I stopped whacking them).  I’m pretty sure these marigolds are the ones from that old saying, “only the strongest will survive.”

This idea that these are the strongest marigolds leads me here:

I’m writing this on a Monday and I’m feeling, we’ll say, not super motivated, to keeps things “positive.” Plus, it’s raining and I just want to go back to bed. But I made a commitment to myself to write this blog today. So, to show myself that I can be trusted (a very important aspect of my C-PTSD recovery) I’m honoring that promise. I Googled some articles on marigolds, hoping I would read something that inspired me. And, would you believe that the creative lightning every writer hopes for struck? I remembered why I was so excited to start blogging about plants.



I am a collector (sometimes an obsessive hoarder) of knowledge. Knowledge lets me feel like I have power over my life and situations (another important part of my recovery). I strive to know all the things … Did I mention I was a perfectionist, and a Virgo... If you’ve ever got me going on a round of “here’s a fun fact,” then you know I’ve got some pretty random info cataloged in my brain.

But we're gonna wrangle the fun facts in and focus on one of my favorite topics to study (hoard).


I love propagating plants for many reasons:

-Saves money

-More Plants

-Gratification of a job well done

-More plants

But there’s more to it than that. Propagation speaks to something few of us still understand and even fewer of us seek out. It’s primal and it connects me with the past. It feeds my need for self sufficiency and self-reliance.

Example: If I learn to propagate enough plants, I will not need to buy seeds or plants every year. If I collect enough seeds, I can start my farm or even my own nursery. I will have a never ending supply. Sounds enticing, non? Even profitable (always with the business mind).


This need

for self reliance was intensified when I visited Mount Vernon, AKA George Washington's family farm. It’s a magical place and I highly recommend you go.


While chasing my children, we wandered upon a small area of raised beds, most of them spent. But one had giant, I mean almost at my shoulders and as big as my head, purple blooms. They looked like Scottish Thistle, and my heart sang.

I found myself asking the gentleman tending them what they were while ferociously snapping photos.

“Artichokes,” he said. “These are the ones we grow to seed.

I must’ve looked very confused because he went on to explain that Mount Vernon was still an active farm, growing plants from seeds that were started way back in the day. They even sell seeds in the gift shop. I like to think of them as descendant seeds, maybe even from as far back as George himself. Now, I don’t know the specifics or how far back their seeds go, but I did read a few plaques. It’s a museum, after all.


This idea has changed me. I was left with a very black-and-white view of what a “real” farmer is, and my obsession with propagation was intensified… Perhaps Mr. Washington was a black and white thinker, too. Or maybe he just took that shit real serious (like, for serious).

Today, when I read how to collect the seeds of a marigold, I was brought back to Mount Vernon and my desire to be a real farmer in the eyes of George. And then the excitement for writing this blog returned. Now I have an excuse to sit down and learn how to collect marigold seeds! Last year, I learned how to harvest seeds from calendula. To which Mr. Washington would be proud to know I sowed and successfully grew again this year. The year before that, I learned how to harvest sunflower seeds and chamomile seeds.

This year will be the Year of the Marigold, because I don’t want to be a gardener who runs to the store and drops ridiculous amounts of money on seeds and sprouts. I want to be a farmer, a black and white, slightly unhealthy, perfection seeking farmer just like George Washington.


So the question your all asking if you made it this far, how do we harvest Marigold seeds?

I thought I read somewhere that marigolds are in the calendula family or are somehow related to them. It’s on the Internet, so it must be true… Real facts though, when reading this article I found out, the seed collection process is almost exactly the same for marigold and calendula.

  • Wait for the bloom the turn brown, long enough for the seed to fully form but not so long that rot sets in.

    It’s a delicate waiting game.

  • Then dry the plant on a paper towel or screen, or hang it upside down - if you fancy that method.

  • Then rip the petals off and collect the seeds.


My blooms are still, well, blooming so I’m not quite ready to harvest, but now I (and you) know what to look for. Stay tuned for the follow-up blog on whether or not I actually pull this off. If I am successful, I’ll be selling, “Only the strongest will survive” seeds next spring!

Here is a link to the specific garden at Mount Vernon that I got lost in. The description mentions George himself growing Artichokes! (I’m geekin’ out!)