This one has to be filed under “K” for “knock me down with a feather.” I was sitting in my office as usual, glued to my computer, when I opened an email from Pacific Horticulture. The office of Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was looking for me. His assistant, Gregory Tosi, had read my article about the marigold in California and wanted to ask me a couple of questions.
The senator is introducing a bill into Congress to make the marigold the emblem both of the House and the Senate. In this way he is resurrecting a long forgotten project of his predecessor Senator Everett Dirksen, he of the gravelly voice. I quote: “Since when has making a profit been un-American” is one of his aphorisms. Mark Kirk sits in the “Dirksen chair” and one of Dirksen’s constituents had asked him to name the marigold our national flower. Because that place is occupied by the rose, Mark Kirk is doing the next best thing.
Previously, Dirksen worked with David Burpee, king of marigold production at the time. In the early 1920s, after the rise and fall of a number of attractive flowers as the fashionable rage, Burpee decided the next one should be the marigold. By sheer force of will he brought this about. The crowning achievement was to name it the national emblem. Somehow Burpee and Dirksen connected, though the process stalled. Fast forward to 2014.
For my sins I am the only person working on this minute niche of plant history, the lives and work of people who gave us the amazing hybrids we take so much for granted.
. . . a valuable annual should not be neglected because it is so common and easy to grow and because it was so much overdone in monotonous lines in the old bedding days. Many good plants have of late suffered from a kind of mistaken prejudice on this account (but) it should be remembered that if the plant was misused it was not the fault of the plant but that of the general acceptance of a poor sort of gardening.
Gertrude Jekyll, Annuals and Biennials, 1916
[Ed: follow the links below to read Judith's original article The Marigold of California as well as other fascinating stories she has contributed to our pages. This short personal account originally appeared in the San Francisco Garden Club Gazette. Thank you for sharing Judith!]