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Monday, 9 December 2013

The wonder of Nasturtiums

 "Just looking at nasturtiums can make you smile - eating them might even make you giggle!" 

Nasturtiums along my garden pathway

My Nasturtiums have put up the most spectacular show this season and with summer still stretching ahead of us, I'm hoping to get lots of flowers until about April-May. They are an absolute delight to the insects, with sweet nectar accumulating at the base of the flower, luring ants, bees, flies, and even a few wasps. They also flowered right through winter, brightening up the garden just when I needed it most.

Nasturtiums (Latin name Tropaeolum) are a gardener's dream. There are varieties for almost every gardening purpose: bushy plants for borders and edges, trailing plants for walls and containers and climbers to add dramatic height in a garden. They are virtually carefree once established. Snails don't seem to be interested in them and neither are any other insects, except maybe aphids, although I've never had this problem. So plant them amongst some other flowers to keep insects at bay.

Nasturtiums will self seed and come back the next year and the next. I look forward to their return each year; it signals that summer is here at last.

For Growing Nasturtiums I have found that sunny spots work best, (too much shade and you have a lot of greenery with only a few flowers) even though they might need more watering, especially if you have a quick-draining soil like ours here in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. Nasturtiums seed so prolifically that, after your first initial planting, you never have to buy seeds again. At the end of the flowering season I usually collect hundreds of seeds from the plants, a job in itself very enjoyable, as I sit picking out the round pea-like seeds amongst the leaves.

Sow Nasturtium seeds once the weather warms up, either in early spring or early summer depending on your location. Sow the seeds about 10 to 15 inches apart, and about 1 inch deep. Water immediately after planting. Then do not water for another 10 days. If you choose a climbing variety, make sure to provide a support for the plant and train it as it grows. Within a few weeks you should have healthy plants with flowers, and prolific flowers in due course!

Nasturtiums in a Terracotta pot

I just love Nasturtiums in containers of any sort, trailing over the rim to create a colourful display. If you have trouble growing them in your garden, go for growing them in pots or any container you can lay your hands on. Just plant your seeds in pots filled with a good potting soil, put them in full sun, keep moist and you will be rewarded with a beautiful show of flowers.

 My pot needs painting! But it has been growing Nasturtiums for so long, trailing over the edge, that I just never get the chance.


And then of course there's the culinary aspect of this versatile plant. (If you intend using any part of the plant for cooking, remember to avoid using pesticides of any sort.) Nasturtiums leaves have a slightly pepper taste. The flowers are also edible, but have a milder taste; it is their vibrant splash of colour that has appeal. Nasturtium seeds are also edible when they are young and green, being used in lieu of capers. The seeds can also be used in a pepper mill instead of black pepper. Nasturtiums have 10 times the vitamin C of lettuce, so a generous portion of leaves and flowers added to salads will appeal to the health conscious.

 Use Nasturtiums to decorate your favourite dish

Try adding the blossoms to salads for a dramatic effect. Nasturtium's spiciness also spices up and brightens cheese spreads. Both the leaves and the blossoms are decorative additions to sandwiches. For a stunning look, pair orange nasturtium blossoms with violets on open-faced cucumber sandwiches on white bread. Adding a few nasturtium leaves to soups and garnishing the puréed soup with nasturtium blossoms is yet another way of utilizing nasturtiums.

These little wonders require very little attention to thrive in your garden. Just give them some soil, water and room to grow and they'll reward you with a beautiful display throughout the year.

The trailing variety looks wonderful if planted next to a log or some rocks, where they will creep up it

 Nasturtiums covering a log

Creeping over a log


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