French marigolds without a greenhouse

October 20th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mr Fothergill's direct sown French Marigold Trial

French marigolds are half hardy annuals. That means that they’re sensitive to cold so their seed is usually sown in a greenhouse or propagator in March or April and the seedlings are planted out at the end of May or in early June.

But this year Brian Talman, who looks after the Mr F trial ground, sowed the seed direct in the open ground. He did this on May 9 and 10, when the worst of the chilly weather was over. And the result was spectacular. Fantastic colour from one of our most colourful of annuals. The display was astonishing – and all without a greenhouse.

One that stood out was ‘Fireball’, which is a unique colour in French marigolds – it’s deep scarlet at first then, as the flowers mature, the colour moves through bronzed orange into coppery yellow.

Another I especially liked was ‘Alumia Vanilla Cream’, developed in Norfolk and in California, in a unique soft, almost primrose, yellow.

French Marigold 'Tall Scotch Prize'I’m an especially big fan of the tall single French marigolds such as the mahogany-and-yellow striped ‘Tall Scotch Prize’ (left). In my trial garden they’re still flowering well in the third week of October and I’ve been cutting them for sunny coloured bouquets since July. And although quite a few off-types turned up in ‘Tall Scotch Prize’ it’s still well worth growing.

Two that I don’t think I’ll be growing are ‘Strawberry Blonde’, about which there was a big song and dance a year ago but which, in fact, is neither strawberry nor blonde. And while the single flowers of the new ‘Red Knight’ are a valuable deep red, the foliage is dull, and rather greyish, compared with the fresh green colour of so many French marigolds.

But the fact that you can sow them outside, in the open ground, where the plants are to flower – well, that’s worth a lot. Why not give it a try? But get your seed orders in now before the best varieties sell out.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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