Letter M The A to Z of TV Gardening


Letter M

A look at some of the BBC's most popular gardening programmes and personalities, presented by Carol Kirkwood. Carol explores subjects that all begin with the letter M.


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Transcript


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Hello, and welcome to the A To Z Of TV Gardening.

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We're on a mission to dig up the best advice and guidance

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from all your favourite programmes and presenters.

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So, join me as, letter after letter, one by one,

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we explore everything from flowers and trees

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to fruit and veg.

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Everything we're looking at today begins with the letter...

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But first, to something that provides one of the most gorgeous displays of the gardening year,

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even though it can take up to ten years for its flowers to first appear.

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And when they come into full bloom in the spring and summer,

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they just dazzle one and all with their beauty

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and they're certainly worth the wait.

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This M is for magnolias.

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And let's begin with Alys Fowler being mesmerised

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in Trewithen Gardens in Cornwall.

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This garden is remarkable

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not just for the number of magnolias it has,

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but also for their size.

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Many of the 50 varieties of magnolia in this garden

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have been here over 100 years,

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thanks to the plant-hunters who brought the seeds back

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to our shores from China in the early 1900s.

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A tree this size, how old does that make this?

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This one particularly is collected in 1928 and planted in 1929.

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It was planted here as an 18-inch seedling.

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And magnolias hate root disturbance.

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They don't like the roots being disturbed at all,

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so to plant it here and get it into perspective to the house

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is either luck or genius - we err on the side of genius.

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Sadly, just a few maps and letters remain from those expeditions.

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But the driving force behind the garden, George Johnstone,

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published in 1955

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what is still considered to be the Bible on magnolias -

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Asiatic Magnolias In Cultivation.

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I suppose it doesn't even start to touch on

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how they must have felt when they saw these things.

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It's hard to imagine trying to see one of these in the wild for the first time.

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Mature trees, sort of 80 feet tall,

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completely clothed in these pink flowers.

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And we're now beginning to see that maturity

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in the garden here, 100 years later.

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If they were alive and visiting Trewithen today,

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those intrepid plant-hunters would only now be seeing

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the impressive scale of the magnolias they discovered.

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A tree of this size - how do you maintain it?

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Luckily for me, the early maintenance had been done.

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On some of the younger plants, we do aesthetic pruning

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during the summer, when the magnolia is in full leaf.

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That way, the sap's got a chance to stop running before winter sets in,

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which could cause damage.

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It's just aesthetic pruning, taking off the whippy branches,

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the long branches, just to keep the plants tidy.

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We've been having these very cold winters. Has that been affecting them at all?

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Magnolias are very lucky, the way they develop.

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They've got these bud sheaths, which are very hairy

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and they protect the bud during winter,

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so as long as these are still enclosing the flower then it's fine.

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It's when we get a late frost,

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which, in Cornwall, is any time past February,

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that's when any damage can occur.

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Thanks to its illustrious horticultural history,

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Trewithen has six magnolias classed as champion trees.

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That means they are the largest of their kind in the UK.

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And here is one of those champion trees.

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This is Magnolia sargentiana,

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and it's one of the Chinese species,

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and the flowers are so exquisite.

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They look like they've been cut out of silk.

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But like any of the species,

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you have to wait a very long time before you see it flower like that.

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It used to be said that if you wanted to enjoy a magnolia

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then your grandparents would have had to have planted it many years ago.

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But these days, thanks to some modern hybridising,

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there's plants like this one, Star Wars,

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which will flower in three to five years.

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So, that'll be something for you to enjoy, and your grandchildren.

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Now let's look at one of our more intriguing trees.

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This M is for monkey puzzle.

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And here's a look at how it was first introduced in Britain.

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Monkey puzzle trees have been something of a horticultural oddity

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in British gardens since the Victoria era.

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This avenue of trees in the grounds of Bicton College, Devon,

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offers an incongruous canopy to the journey up to the main house.

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More incongruous still is the story of the tree's discovery

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and subsequent journey to England from the Chilean Andes.

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Only five seeds came back to Britain with plant-hunter Archibald Menzies.

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Menzies encountered them when they were served to him as a dessert

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during a dinner party in the Chilean capital.

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Intrigued by the nut-like seeds,

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he pocketed his pudding and headed for home.

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It was decades later before William Lobb

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introduced the seeds commercially.

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They became an instant hit.

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The seeds of these particular trees

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came from that original introduction from Chile.

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When these trees were planted, of course,

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they had no English name.

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They already had a scientific name,

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Araucaria araucana,

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named after the Araucarian Indians,

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who were the Indians in the area from where the trees,

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the seed of the trees, was collected.

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The name "monkey puzzle" came from an observer

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of the trees in cultivation

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who said, "Gosh, it would puzzle a monkey to climb one of those trees."

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And so that name - monkey puzzle tree -

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has actually stuck to this day.

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These were planted out as a very early avenue,

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probably the very first avenue, of these newly introduced trees.

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I think...although we have a concept today

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of what these trees look like, where we see them in our gardens,

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remember that at that time, they were a curiosity

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and nobody had any idea, who was planting them,

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what they would actually grow into.

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In their native Chile,

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the trees date back to the Jurassic period

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and this prehistoric ancestry

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is largely responsible for the monkey puzzle's bizarre look today.

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The tress are like they are

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because they've evolved a dinosaur-deterrent habit.

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They've got this enormously prickly foliage.

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They've got these every tall trunks.

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They evolve these tall trunks to move that foliage up

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above a height which the dinosaurs could possibly eat them.

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Of course, this is a case, actually, of co-evolution,

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because as the monkey puzzle trees produce their canopies

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ever higher and higher above the herbivorous dinosaurs,

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so, of course, the herbivorous dinosaurs

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evolved longer and longer necks

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to try and actually eat the foliage, which was becoming up above them.

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And so what we've got here is a mutual Cold War, if you like.

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The trees trying to avoid the dinosaurs,

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the dinosaurs evolving necks to go up.

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But, of course, the dinosaurs became extinct,

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but here, in cultivation, we still see the residue of that inherence.

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But the great height of these trees,

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coupled with a relatively small root ball,

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do make it susceptible to high winds

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and this showcase avenue was all but destroyed in the 1920s

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by a storm that is still remembered today.

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In 1928,

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when that great gale was,

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it blew down around 30 trees in this avenue.

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I mean to say...really ripped the heart out of the avenue,

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if you can understand what I mean.

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You couldn't believe that nature could be so cruel,

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really, in one way.

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Luckily, the fallen trees had been planted with male and female seeds,

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so it was possible to propagate replacements still standing today.

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Now we've come to our final M

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and it's a flower that adds a real zing of colour to your garden

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in spring, through summer and even autumn.

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This M is for marigolds.

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Also known as calendula.

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Let's finish with Christine Walkden,

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who says there is more to these flowers than meets the eye.

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Marigolds - are they gorgeous or gaudy?

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For some people, the marigold is a vibrant vision of summer,

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a must-have for your border.

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For others, well... it's the Jordan of the plant world -

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bright and colourful, but a bit in your face.

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But if you ever see them in their thousands,

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they completely transform a British landscape

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into something utterly Mediterranean.

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This rare sight is a field full of pot marigolds,

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or Calendula officinalis, being grown as a crop.

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It's thought that their oil will replace the poison in paint

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and reduce the dangerous pollution given off by paint fumes.

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We're using the oil from the pot marigold as an alternative

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to volatile organic compounds,

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which are used in paints and varnishes and suchlike.

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We're also using it as a wood preservative.

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So, the colour is totally insignificant? It's just the oil from the seed?

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The colour is very nice, but we're only after the oil.

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It has been used in the past as a colorant

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in things like butter and cheese, and as a fabric dye.

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But that's all taken from the petal,

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which is hand-harvested and extremely expensive.

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Here we're just looking at the seed, which we harvest mechanically.

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So, when will we be able to see this fantastic oil used in paint?

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We've still got quite a bit of development work to do,

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both in shelf life and pigment, but hopefully, fairly soon.

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So, let's be clear about these marigolds.

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We've got the French marigold that's commonly used in our gardens

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and often popped inside greenhouses to keep whitefly away.

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It's a large single flower,

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dark green foliage that's aromatic and the leaf is divided.

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Whereas the pot marigold,

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grown in pots historically as a beautiful, hardy pot plant,

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well, the differences are that it's got a flat head,

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matt green foliage that doesn't smell.

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It's this marigold, the calendula, that's amazingly versatile.

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You can eat the flowers in salad, turn them into tea,

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dye your clothes with them or make a healthy mouthwash.

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In 2007, the calendula helped win gold at Chelsea

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as part of Sarah Eberle's Mars Garden -

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a garden made up of plants specially chosen to keep astronauts safe

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and healthy on the Red Planet.

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The marigold is well known in medicine.

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Recently, after intense research, the European Medicines Agency

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officially recognised the plant's soothing, antiseptic properties,

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something that herbalists have believed for centuries.

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It was always used in the house when we didn't have antiseptic creams.

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-Right.

-You would use the marigold flower.

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If you were now stung by the bee,

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you could just rub it onto your skin

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and the inflammation would go down.

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It is used in almost 90% of our creams, ointments, toiletries.

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How do you capture that in a solution?

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Well, there are many ways of extracting marigold flowers.

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This is the traditional way.

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You just put them in the jar, cover with a little bit of oil.

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-I'm going to do it with organic sunflower oil.

-Yes.

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It's light oil and it will extract beautiful colour

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and all the resinous material out of the flowers.

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And now I have to, of course...

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close it down, because we don't want anything else coming in.

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And this will be left in the sunshine to infuse,

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ten days or so, and then strained through a sieve

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-and this is what you get.

-Wow!

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-Beautiful colour oil.

-Isn't that beautiful?

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And what would you use this for?

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Small cuts, burns...anything that needs antiseptic quality to it.

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So, instead of using French marigolds in our garden,

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we should really be putting pot marigolds in and enjoy them?

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Ah, they should be celebrated, definitely.

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Thanks, Christine.

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And as marigolds like full sun, they're probably loving it today.

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That's all for now.

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Do join us next time for another A To Z Of TV Gardening.

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Carol Kirkwood takes an alphabetical journey through the world of gardening, getting inspiration and advice from some of the BBC's most popular garden presenters and programmes. In this episode, she is exploring subjects that all begin with the letter M.

Marvel at the oddity that is the monkey puzzle tree. Alys Fowler is mesmerised by magnolias and a marigold enthusiast.


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