It's as if Garden Design magazine knew I was starting to like orange, and thought, "We'll seal the deal with marigold garland". Well played, Garden Design, for I cannot resist flower garlands or The Day Of The Dead...First, a note on terminology: when I wrote about Día de los Muertos home goods last year, I mentioned the marigolds used in traditional ofrendas (altars) and celebrations. A commenter corrected me, saying, "The flowers are called "cempasúchil", they are not marigolds". Happily, it's one of those occasions when we both get to be right. The traditional flowers are indeed cempasúchil, or flor de muertos, but they are also marigolds. They're Mexican marigolds- Tagetes erecta- "found in the wild in the states of San Luis Potosí, Chiapas, State of México, Puebla, Sinaloa, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz" (Wikipedia!). In one of those kooky and frustrating flukes of the floral world, they are generally referred to as African marigolds. Let's start correcting that right here, right now!
All of the information above and more can also be found on Mexican Folk Art Guide, which tells us, "The cempasuchil is widely used in every part of Mexico on Day of the Dead to decorate the altars or offerings either in the houses or the cemeteries. The color and smell of the flowers ornate and aromatize the place, making the souls feel good and return to their world happy.The petals of the flower are used to form a path from the altar to the house door so that the bright color of the cempasuchil and its strong smell guide the souls to their offering." They also feature several other traditional flowers, as well as alternatives if marigold prices are prohibitive.
So it would appear that marigold garlands are not usually part of Día de los Muertos festivities (please correct me if I'm wrong), but I could see them making an absolutely lovely addition (please correct me if this is sacrilegious- though one of the things I love about the Day of the Dead is that it seems to have a sense of humor about itself). Oh, look: I found a photo of marigold garland on Inside Mexico! Whether you're making marigold garland as part of your Halloween, Día de los Muertos, or Thanksgiving decorations, or just because you have a lot of marigolds and you love garland, Garden Design can help. Katherine Anderson has put together a great tutorial for her Notes From A Flower Farm column, full of helpful hints and ways to incorporate other flowers. She's even used marigold garland for weddings!