Make the gar­den great with amaz­ing marigolds

Marigolds can be a multi-pur­pose source of colour in the gar­den as well as be­ing a valu­able com­pan­ion for the veg patch, writes Fiann Ó Nual­láin

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Property -

Iwasn’t much a fan of French or African marigolds (Tagetes spp) when I was grow­ing up — my Dad would send me into town to pick up a few bun­dles, when­ever he de­cided it was time to re­fresh the border edge of the path into our house af­ter the spring bulbs had re­ceded. Gen­er­ally, that was the first or sec­ond week in May. They, like wall­flow­ers and other bed­ding, were some­times wrapped in wet news­pa­per and elas­tic bands — and even now I can vividly re­live the icky touch of the soggy bun­dles in the palm of my hands — it’s my ‘nails on the black­board’ equiv­a­lent.

When I got home, I didn’t mind help­ing to plant them, but as some years they came yel­low, other times orange and some years more a bad bronze, I never quite could de­cide if they were cheap and cheer­ful, or a bit gaudy. We had a long sway of sky blue Cam­pan­ula porten­schla­giana self-seed­ing along that path, so the orange and blue years were fa­vored over the yel­low and blue ‘Wick­low county colour’ years. Nothing against Wickla, mind — or Roscom­mon or Clare for that mat­ter. Just yel­low and blue didn’t do it for me — at that age, I would have planted it black and more black.

The golden hues of tagetes are echoed in the name marigold — Mary’s gold — but long be­fore their re­as­sign­ment to the Chris­tian tra­di­tion, Tagetes de­rived their botan­i­cal name from an Etr­uscan God of div­ina­tion. A hint to some eth­nob­otany. One va­ri­ety is still linked with shamanic ri­tual — Tagetes lu­cida — smoked or brewed as a psy­choac­tive tea.

In fact the Aztecs re­ferred to it as yauhtli – they used it to ‘se­date’ those who were to be sac­ri­ficed, while other cul­tures kick-started their dream quests with the plant. Dis­cov­er­ing that in my late teens was part of my grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the plant. That — and the hor­ti­cul­tural ben­e­fits of plant­ing tagetes in the gar­den that I would soon learn.

In Ire­land to­day there are three types of tagetes read­ily avail­able. All sold as bed­ding and or­na­men­tals — treated as half-hardy an­nu­als.

The three are; the French marigold (Tagetes pat­ula) which is a small bushy bed­ding va­ri­ety around 15-30 cm in height. Dense and vi­brantly col­ored ray flo­rets. They will bloom from late June un­til Oc­to­ber frosts and come in sin­gle, semi­dou­bles and dou­ble forms. African marigold (Tagetes erecta) are a taller plant (more than dou­ble the height) and dis­play larger flow­ers but with a shorter bloom­ing pe­riod than French; more of­ten found in semi-dou­bles and dou­ble forms.

Then, there are the Signet hy­brids aka Triploid marigolds (Tagetes sig­nata/pumila/ten­u­fo­lia) which are ster­ile hy­brids of the two for­mer species. Prized as long bloom­ing. Of­ten sold with ‘gem’ in the name.

So while these guys are sold as bed­ding and or­na­men­tals, they should not be dis­qual­i­fied from the veg­etable gar­den. In fact I rec­om­mend their re­peated use each year. Ok, yes they are a mi­nor edi­ble — in that their petals, (in strictly ad­heredt o mod­er­a­tion), sup­ply beau­ti­ful vivid colours and a mild cit­rus flavour for gar­nish and other culi­nary pur­poses.

But it is their ‘com­pan­ion plant’ po­ten­tial that of­fers real prom­ise. They are all ex­cel­lent ass­cent de­ter­rents to pests. In­side in the green­house, they dis­suade white flies.

While out­side, tagetes af­fect a trick of ol­fac­tory mis­di­rec­tion with not just cab­bage white but­ter­fly but also car­rot root fly — so plant­ing them near those crops is most help­ful to send pests in the wrong di­rec­tion.

Now is the best month to plant out any hue of tagetes and just in time to re­pel the sum­mer in­flux of cab­bage white but­ter­flies. French Marigolds can have a pun­gent — dare I say, some­what ‘pissy’ aroma, while the African and hy­brids can have some cit­rus notes. Tagetes oil is uti­lized in per­fumery and also in aro­mather­apy to treat wounds, in­fec­tions, and res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions. Col­lec­tively their par­tic­u­lar fra­grance pro­files do not de­ter hov­er­fly and other ben­e­fi­cial in­sects; in fact it at­tracts many — so some ex­tra pest con­trol.

But it is not all about de­ter­ring leaf munch­ing pests or at­tract­ing pest munch­ing preda­tors. As a com­pan­ion plant they have it go­ing on un­der­ground too. What I re­ally like about them is that they ex­ude thio­phenes from their roots – a sul­phur com­pound which kills off ne­ma­todes; so potato eel­worms look out.

There is po­ten­tial here as a phy­tore­me­di­a­tion crop, planted in soils where ne­ma­todes have built up a strong and per­sis­tent pres­ence. It will take the whole sum­mer to do the job — so plant­ing early is great.

In the tra­di­tion of a com­pan­ion plant, it is not ad­vised to plant near legumes, but oth­er­wise their good neigh­bourli­ness is re­garded highly by or­ganic gar­den­ers to im­prove the yields and in­di­vid­ual vigour of most other gar­den veg­eta­bles, in par­tic­u­lar crops of the Solanaceae fam­ily which in­cludes potato, tomato, tomatillo, aubergine and cap­sicums (bell and chili).

Marigolds are so easy to grow, just plant in sun and add some wa­ter from time to time. They are easy from seed and come in plug trays and packs from your lo­cal gar­den cen­tre. Long gone is the wrap of soggy news­pa­per.

And while they come in and out of fash­ion for bas­kets, con­tain­ers and border edg­ing — their use in the veg patch should be con­stant.

Plus, its nice to see some bright colour amongst the haze of greens on the al­lot­ment this month.

A woman of­fer­ing marigolds for the gods in Varanasi, In­dia by the banks of the Ganges river. The Por­tuguese in­tro­duced marigolds to In­dia and they’re widely cul­ti­vated to make gar­lands, for mar­riages and fes­ti­vals. Par­tic­u­larly, Dussehra where in­di­vid­u­als adorn their ve­hi­cles and homes with marigold gar­lands.


Toma­toes with marigolds planted as com­pan­ions. Marigolds can be help­ful in send­ing pests in the wrong di­rec­tion.

Pic­ture: PA

Rare Corn marigolds form­ing a golden car­pet over a stretch of farm­land.

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