Susan Betz is an author, lecturer and garden communicator who has been growing and using herbs for pleasure and purpose for over thirty years. You can find more thymely tips and sage advice on her website Fresh Start Herbs.
Nasturtiums are top on my list of favorite flowering annuals. Each year I start a few extra annual flowers and herbs from seed to have on hand to fill unexpected gaps in my garden beds and containers. I call it desperate use of annuals. Quick,easy and fun to grow, nasturtiums are suitable for garden edges and beds, climbing trellises, annual ground covers, hanging baskets and containers. Beauty and taste: their leaves, flowers, and seeds are all edible.
Nasturtiums belong to the genus Tropaeolum, which includes some 50 annual or perennial plants. Tropaeolum is from the Greek tropaion, “trophy” because the leaves are look like round shields and the flower blossoms resemble small helmets. The varieties most commonly available to gardeners are usually one of two species: T. majors, a cascading or climbing type; and T. minus, with a more bushy habit. Nasturtiums’ showy blossoms range in colors from brilliant yellow and orange to dark reddish mahogany, while others are softly hued with bright blotches of contrasting color. Their leaves resemble tiny Water lily pads and come in various shades of green and variegated patterns splashed with yellow or cream colors.
They are easily grown from seed planted after danger of frost is past, and the ground is thoroughly warmed. They prefer full sun, but some will do well in part shade. Nasturtiums are fairly drought tolerant and will produce flowers best in average soil. Too much fertilizer will yield a great display of leaves but few flowers. They tend to resent transplanting, so if you start your seeds early be sure to grow them in peat pots, so their roots are not disturbed when planted.
Organic gardeners use nasturtiums as companion plants in the garden to keep fruits and vegetables susceptible to aphids clear of the pest. It does this by attracting the aphids to itself, providing a single area for the gardener to focus on for pest control and cleanup. They are also reputed to repel white flies and squash bugs. If you are planting for pollinators be sure to include a few naturtium varieties in your garden design.
The entire plant has a spicy, peppery flavor; both the flowers and the leaves will lend a zesty addition to your favorite salads and sandwiches. Stuff the flowers with an herb cream cheese blend or chicken salad for a gorgeous appetizer, or toss a few blossoms into vinegar for color and zip. Nasturtium seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers, or if you are super ambitious, you can toast the ripe seeds and grind them for use as a pepper substitute.
The astounding choice of nasturtium varieties available in seed catalogs far outshines the selection of nasturtiums found at most garden centers.Seed catalogs also provide useful descriptions of plants and helpful cultural information.
Some of my favorites :
Alaska Mix: Stunning yellow, red and orange flowers with beautiful green and white foliage and mounding habit. Great bedding plant to attract hummingbirds.
Alaska Red Shades: Brightly variegated foliage and velvety deep maroon blooms; dwarf upright plants. Great for containers or edging plants.
Climbing “Moonlight: Perfect plant choice for an evening garden. Soft yellow flowers on trailing vines grow up to seven feet long. Attractive on a trellis, fence or summer arbor.
Day and Night: Mounding habit, bright green foliage topped with elegant flowers in contrasting shades of light cream and dark mahogany. Great in containers and shady borders.
Empress of India: Old time favorite with semi-bush habit was introduced in 1884. Deep blue foliage and brilliant long-spurred red blossoms. Very popular in Victorian times as an edible flower. Attracts hummingbirds.
Whirlybird Mix: A bush variety is available as a mix of flower colors, or in separate colors, including cream, salmon, gold, and cherry rose. Flowers are semi-double.