Last summer was not really an ideal one for French marigolds so those that did well in the Wisley trial really must be good. There were 132 in the trial altogether - both French marigolds and Afro-French hybrid marigolds and this week the eight that were especially outstanding had their Awards of Garden Merit ratified.
Afro-French hybrid marigolds, I should explain, are exactly what the name suggests: hybrids between African and French marigolds. They make larger plants than most French marigolds, some of which are so small as to be hardly worth growing, they're very bushy, and they have single or double flowers much smaller than those of African marigolds. And unlike most marigolds, they're bred in Britain so are well adapted to our climate. I thought they were superb in last year's wet summer.
Five French marigolds were awarded AGMs. ‘Aton Yellow' with its slightly anemone-centred lemon yellow flowers set against dark foliage and its gold sister ‘Aton Gold' were excellent. ‘Pascal Rusty' had striking picotee flowers while the single-flowered ‘Disco Orange' was very uniform and very bright, with the new flowers hiding the old ones - always a valuable feature. ‘Bonanza Flame', in rusty orange with a yellow edge to each petal, carried especially long lasting crested blooms which also hid the fading flowers.
When I assessed the marigolds as part of the judging panel it was the Afro-French hybrids that impressed me most. They're incredibly prolific with a very very long season and almost without exception the new flowers open just above the old ones - they never need dead-heading. Three received awards, two doubles and one single; personally I'd probably have given one or two more.
The two doubles, ‘Zenith Golden Yellow' and ‘Zenith Yellow' had incredible impact while the single ‘Sunburst Yellow Splash', with each yellow petal splashed in red, was notable in that the individual flowers stood up especially well to the rain.
And the ratification of these awards is very timely... These marigolds grow so quickly once they germinate that April is good time to sow them. And my personal advice is to try any Zenith and Sunburst varieties you can find.