The story of our plants: marigold

On our balcony we have two large, rectangular planters in which we plant all manner of random flowers and enjoy watching them bloom from spring till the end of summer1.

We had a very warm and dry June this year. Specifically, the average mean temperature was 1.2ºC higher than the previous record. A record set a mere two years ago. As a result of all that dry heat our flowers died out. We probably should also have been watering them more. The planters had been leaking water even after little to moderate watering, annoying our neighbours below. To remedy this, we picked up drip trays to place under our planters from a hardware shop. The shop had a gardening section that sold seeds. Since we were there, we picked a packet each of marguerite daisy and marigold.

I wasn’t sure when I’d plant them. The instructions on the packets of the seeds seemed to suggest that I shouldn’t expect to see any flowers this year if I were to plant them this late in the summer. Towards the end of June, the weather forecast showed that a spell of cool and wet weather was headed our way. It would almost be like late spring. I wondered if that would coax the plants to grow and flower.

One Sunday, in anticipation of the upcoming milder weather, I cleared the planters of the dead plants, added a few centimetres of fresh potting soil and planted the seeds. Worst case, we’d see flowers next year. The relatively cooler and wetter July and August that followed, were very favourable for the growth of the plants. It is likely that our packet of marguerite daisy seeds was mislabeled. Whatever is growing in the parts of the planter where I sowed those seeds is definitely not going to sprout any daisy flowers.

Not quite the marguerite daisies we were promisedNot quite the marguerite daisies we were promised

But with the marigolds we seem to have hit a jackpot. The plants began to bud in late August and with some assistance from the unseasonably warm September weather, they are thriving.

Marigold flowersMarigold flowers

Marigold flowersMarigold flowers

Marigolds were ubiquitous in Delhi where Mansi and I grew up. They are a staple of the decoration in North Indian weddings. The flowers are robust, feature a festive mustard-orange-maroon palette and can easily be strung into long garlands. I haven’t been to a single wedding as a child where the kids didn’t appropriate a handful of them from the decor and playfully pelted them at each other. If you press hard into the marigold’s green base with your thumb and tear it open, hundreds of immature seeds would spill into your hands. I thus developed a passing familiarity with marigold seeds - even though as a child I had no idea what I was holding.

When I tore open the packet of marigold seeds from the shop, thanks to this childhood connection, I immediately knew that I was holding the right stuff.

A few years ago I would’ve been very sceptical about their ability to grow here. How would something that grows, even prospers in the much warmer and drier Delhi climate, adapt to the wet, temperate climate of Amsterdam2? But then our world has been growing warmer. Varieties of grapes from southern France now grow well in Maastricht and places as far up north as Norway are starting to produce wine. During the many walks through our neighbourhood during the pandemic, we had seen them grow outside several ground floor homes. That was confirmation enough for us to try.

I am glad we did! Given how excited Mansi has been about them, I am pretty sure they’ll be seen growing on our balcony for years to come.

  1. Our balcony faces west and offers no shade. The plants bear the brunt of long summer evenings. We usually prefer to plant hardy, wildflower varieties.↩︎

  2. A couple of years ago plant shops here were selling another plant I remember from my childhood in Delhi - bougainvillea. We got one. Our attempt to keep it alive past September were an utter failure. Despite keeping it indoors during winter, the poor thing hardly had any life left in it the next year.↩︎

September 17, 2023