strawberry blonde: a story of appreciation

perfume to pest repellent – these versatile flowers have a place in the garden


A lovely versatile flower, with fern like leaves and non-stop fiery bloom, was an addition to my vegetable garden but overlooked when I was making selections for the annual plantings in the landscape beds at work and at home. I am not completely sure why – perhaps it was the mass offerings at nurseries, hardware stores and even the supermarket…the bright oranges and yellow just appeared to common and I prided myself on the exotic and unusual when building the seasonal palette. I am an unashamed flower snob! I have never cared for the scent on my hands after deadheading, but the entire plant is distilled for an essential oil that has a very refreshing smell and traditionally added to sandlewood – a favorite.

I received a complimentary packet of Strawberry Blonde French Marigolds with a seed order last year and decided to propagate them. No picture was on the packet so I gave little thought to what they would look like and where they would be placed in the landscape.

I started them in the heated greenhouse a bit earlier than I normally would have; about 12 weeks before our last frost and about – if you are starting seeds in your garden beds, Marigolds can be planted around 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your area and they usually germinate in 1-2 weeks – and it was about 16 weeks before I could hope to plant them outside in our region so after they germinated and established, I moved them to the cold house.

photo – above, Burpee Seeds & below, Just Seeds

French Marigold – Strawberry Blonde. A stunning annual which has multi-colored blooms. The flowers open up rose red then changed to an antique / bicolour then primrose. The colors are more pronounced in cooler weather conditions.

It does not matter if you are a rose or a lotus or a marigold. What matter is that you are flowering.


What a surprise! The Strawberry Blonde made quite the impression on even a ‘flower snob’. I planted them throughout the landscape, as a border, and added to some of my containers for a boost of color. I loved watching them turn from a deep rose to peach and with the cooler weather into a sherbert pink with highlights of antique butter white. They thrived and were easy to care for long into the fall season. With this positive experience, and rave reviews from visitors to the park, I felt it was time to give The Marigold a front seat in the selection process for my 2021 season – and this would require a bit of research on my part. First problem I encountered was a SOLD OUT sign with just about every seed company I order from. Apparently the response and limitations of the COVID situation has proved a double edge sword for many nurseries, suppliers, and seed companies. Incredible interest and order numbers – no staff and/or supplies to meet the orders!

I had some seeds salvaged from the 2020 garden and was able to piece together seeds from multiple sources. Propagation would not be a problem…Marigolds grow in a wide range of soil types and conditions. With plenty of sunshine, they prove to be a trouble free annual that requires little input once established. I did occasionally perform a walk-by deadheading throughout the season, but was gifted for my efforts with recurring blooms.

Deadheading encourages the plant to produce more blooms, extending the flowering season and it is very simple: When a blossom starts to go bad, pinch its stem back to the nearest set of leaves

photo bMAKER

I prefer to sow the seeds myself and this option offers much more diversity of color than is found in the inexpensive bedding flats at the garden centers. If you are looking for the unusual and subtle color palette described below and are not inclined to sowing the seeds yourself, I suggest visiting the more boutique nurseries rather than large box store garden centers. Purchase or sow, let some of your plants go to seed and they should self-seed in your bed, much like violas in the following year – or if this style is to wild, you can easily collect your seeds then sow them in the areas you want the them.

companion plants

So this is how my relationship started with Marigolds. A summer, in my youth, found my family in Northern California living in a rural community, well actually in a cabin in the wilds outside of Greenville, California. We had a massive vegetable garden and mixed in throughout the squash, tomatoes, and beans were planted marigolds. My Grandmother explained that they killed the bugs. I was very impressed and I think this is how I saw the marigold for years to come – bug killer!

As a horticulturist I recognize that this notion is not entirely backed by scientific research – yet I am not completely willing to disregard it as a garden myth. The collective experience and knowledge of gardeners through time carries some weight with me – so I had to do a bit more “digging” to find if this information is simply anecdotal.

I found lots of claims in my gardening library, but, very little supporting research let alone evidence. So first we need to define what is companion planting:

Unlike vertebrates – plants really cannot choose the company they keep and if natural selection fails them, the “relationships’ with their neighbors can be dysfunctional at best. Companion Planting is a human strategy for planning and placing plants together that are mutually beneficial to maximize growth. there are many reasons to practice this strategy in your garden which includes some pest control a companion plant may be able to protect its partner from pests that are commonly attracted to it but more importantly; soil fertility nitrogen-fixing plants can help out non-nitrogen-fixing plants; providing a natural trellis a tall plant can provide the scaffolding a climbing plant needs; shade regulation a tall sun-loving plant can protect a low shade-loving plant; and weed control wide ground-covering plants next to upright, thin plants discourages weeds.

photo – Rosie Yeomans Sparsholt

I found very little credible research to back any of the claims, and I found a lot of claims! From rabbit and deer resistant… to eliminator of nematodes – and the only conclusion that I could make is – more research needs to be completed in this area! I did find a legitimate reference to whitefly as a known pest of marigolds and since marigolds produce a chemical called limonene, which attracts the whitefly, I can see an application of planting them in proximity of other crops like tomatoes – the marigold would serve as a ‘sacrifice’ plant since the whitefly is more attracted to it than the crop. Not exactly a true definition of companion planting and more of use as a ‘trap’. Another example of using them as a ‘sacrifice’ plant is – slugs – they simply love marigolds. So using them as a border planting would at least isolate the pest for removal.

In pre-Hispanic Mexico, Marigolds were regarded as the flower of the dead, which led to their frequent use in the Day of the Dead celebrations held each year in the fall to remember friends and family who have died

The Oxford Academy Environmental Entomology, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1 April 1980, Pages 195–198,, presented results of a study that intercropped marigolds with Phaseolus vulgaris, snap beans, and found that the beans had fewer beetles but the growth was stunted by root exudates from the marigolds and this netted a lower harvest. Planting as a polyculture with a variety of species, including marigolds, will increase your gardens biodiversity, and by creating many layers in height, mimic a natural growing, suppress weeds and invasives, builds healthy soil, and a healthy garden is the best defence against pests and pathogens.

photo – (left top) public domain (right top) the Butterfly website (left bottom) Pixabay (right bottom) 15 Acre Homestead

Planting marigolds as a pesticide may be a hit or miss, but, regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the potential efficacy of marigolds in pest control – one reason for certain to plant marigolds in the landscape, alone or as companion plantings, is attracting beneficial insects which help to deter pests. Ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps and other predatory insects are attracted to marigolds and will help eliminate aphids and other pests that can damage your crop and garden plantings.

In addition to attracting predatory insects, marigold are great forage for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators because of their long bloom season.

In Nepal, marigolds are highly celebrated and called “hundred-leafed flower”, referring to its many petals per blossom head. It is the main flower used in garlands and decorations at weddings, festivals and religious events.
gardening with marigolds

Marigold or Tagetes is a genus of annual or perennial, mostly herbaceous plants in the sunflower family. Its common name is derived from English “Mary’s Gold” and the Latin name Tagets is from the Roman mythology, named after Tags a prophet in the Etruscan religion. Marigolds, range in size from the tiny dwarf (6 inches) to lofty (4 foot), and the spectrum of color, from pale butter yellow to bright red and with many bi-colors in shades of orange, peach, and burgundy, offers approximately 50 species with new species available each year So there is a marigold to fit into almost every garden.

photo – Beth R. , American grows

To attract more pollinators plant marigolds in a dense bunch or along a boarder companioned with other pollinator friendly perennials and annuals. Marigolds as a boarder can create a clean divide from your lawn.

Using marigolds along fences or walls makes for a colorful contrasting backdrop for plantings. This is an ideal place to ry some of the tall stemmed varieties.

photo – yardener

photo – John Hay Estate at the Fells

Marigolds make a colorful splash in a rock garden. Their hardy drought resistance make them ideal companions in areas that other flowers cannot grow and thrive. Just dig a spot in the crevices for seedlings , mulch well and bloom!

photo – newlifeonhomestead

One of my favorite ‘recycle’ projects is to fill old buckets and containers with bright annual plantings. Clusters of bright fiery color can brighten up any corner of your garden and add to a homey charm. Marigolds are a perfect container plant.

photo – sara erickson pinterest

Tuck marigolds into window boxes with an assortment of flowers in varying textures and sizes. These are paired with sedum, Vinca major ‘Variegata’, and Gypsophila.

Filling a hanging basket will produce a drought resistant mass of foliage with lacy fern like greenery, making it an eye-catching.

photo – Fleuroselect

photo – floranova creative plant breeding

“Floranova’s New French Marigold series’ Crème Brûlée’ were bred by David Lemon in California. David has been breeding Marigolds since 1964 and in 2006 was awarded the All America Selections Breeders Cup for his outstanding contribution to flower breeding.”

I will leave you with a couple more “Marigold” Facts and then let you discover your  own “story of appreciation”!

  • Marigolds can be dried for long-lasting floral arrangements. Strip foliage from perfect blossoms and hang them upside down.
  • You may see “marigolds” listed as edible flowers. In fact, it’s the flowers of Calendulanot Tagetes—that make great additions to a summer dish. Flowers from Tagetes marigolds may be irritating to the skin, so we do not recommend ingesting them.

Happy Planting!

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