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Butterflies love marigolds

Marigolds have always been among my favourite flowers for fall. It was about this time last year I got into a pretty heated argument about whether they attracted butterflies.

Marigolds have always been among my favourite flowers for fall. It was about this time last year I got into a pretty heated argument about whether they attracted butterflies. You would think a couple of geezers getting up there in years could argue about something else - like the economy. But instead we chose to have at it over marigolds and butterflies.

For years, I had been involved in trialing marigolds and remember seeing butterflies having a feast. On the other hand, I simply never took a photo to prove it.

However, I recently visited Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and it was a butterfly frenzy on the marigolds.

What really surprised me was that they were also feeding on the African or large-flowered marigolds. I hate terms like French marigolds (Tagetes patula) and African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), and there are hundreds of varieties associated with each.

There are numerous hybrids of the two, adding further to the confusion. You may even find the name American associated with the African hybrids.

The reason I hate it is that the French marigolds are from Mexico and Guatemala; the African marigolds are from Mexico and Central America; and neither of those groups are Mexican marigolds, which are known

botanically as Tagetes lucida and actually are from Mexico. This sounds like the horticultural comedy hour.

Both the French and the African marigolds have the ability to really put on a show.

While we may have paid more attention in recent years to the very large-flowered African selections like Inca, Marvel, Antigua and Perfection, there is something to be said for the power of the smaller French-flowered selections.

In the French marigold group, you will find what are known as French Dwarf Crested types like 'Aspen,' 'Bonanza' and the Janie series.

Then there is the French Dwarf Anemone series that includes 'Durango' and 'Troubadour.' Lastly, there are the French Fully Double types, such as the Aurora series. No matter which you choose, the colours are rich and vibrant.

Fertile, well-drained soil and full sun will make you look like a garden pro. First, plant enough to make a real show; one jumbo six-pack isn't enough. Plant marigolds by the flat to do justice to your planting.

One thing you'll notice is that late-summer or early-fall planted marigolds generally bloom before chrysanthemums and will still be blooming after mums are finished. Now you know you'll also be feeding butterflies.

Sizzling colour combinations can be made using blue or violet companions for a complementary colour scheme.

If you are growing those in the orange-to-red colour scheme, then blue is the best choice as a companion plant. If you are growing those in the yellow range, then violet-to-purple colours may be the best, such as the fall-blooming Mexican bush sage. Don't forget that oranges and yellows also partner well in the analogous colour scheme.

Warmer regions of the country can still get plenty of enjoyment out of marigolds this fall; the rest will have to wait until spring or late summer next year. I assure you that these little troopers you loved as a kid are even better now. Both you and the butterflies will love them.

Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden in Georgia, and author of Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.

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