Pretty, easy, fun, and tasty are all descriptive of the Nasturtium, a plant all of us should be growing in our gardens. The brightly colored flowers of red, orange, yellow, and peach liven up our landscape and provide many benefits to the grower. The ultimate goal is the peppery flavored flowers, but there are several reasons to include this crop in every garden plan.
Seeds are commonly available or you can save your own. The large quarter inch seeds, placed a half inch deep in a well-drained soil planting mix, germinate in a week. I plant six to eight seeds in an eight-inch pot set in a partially shaded area, such as under a citrus tree. In a few weeks, thin and transplant the spouted seeds to a garden bed while leaving a few in the pot. Moderate fertilization and irrigation are all that are required for a successful crop. I always have nasturtiums in several phases of growth around the garden.
As the plants grow, the round leaves trail off the flexible stems. Hanging baskets are an optional growing method. In five to six weeks, flower buds appear, with a hint of color peaking out of the tip. The next day, bright colored flowers up to two inches in diameter will be nestled amongst the foliage.
Companion planting nasturtiums in the garden helps to repel several varieties of beetles and caterpillars. Squash grown in Florida is especially susceptible to numerous insect pests repelled by nasturtiums. This pest control is also true for the brassicas, which include broccoli, collards, mustards, and radishes. Imagine the panorama of brightly colored flowers dotting the garden, knowing the pests are being kept at bay by this pretty subterfuge.
The entire plant is edible. Pinch the flower’s stem about an inch back. The leaves can be harvested this same way. Provide a safe collection basket for your edible flower harvest, as they are quite fragile. I’m all the time savoring a flower in the fresh air of the garden for the thrill of the immediate burst of flavor. Keep the harvest shaded and cool. Rinse the flowers ever so lightly to avoid bruising the colored petals. (No wonder you can never find nasturtiums available at a retail produce counter.)
The bright colors top a salad of mixed garden greens surprisingly well. Don’t mix the flowers into the salad since this will damage the effect. The leaves mixed with the other salad greens add their subtle peppery flavor. The leaves are also an excellent addition to stir fry blends, although the flowers wouldn’t survive the wok at all.
By protecting the plants from the extremes of Winter and Summer weather, a nasturtium crop can be grown year round in Central Florida. With the motivations of beauty, companionship, flavor, and just plain fun, every gardener could be taking part in this joy of growing. I do, and so should you!