Newest Review: ... they do like a sunny patch, they seem to tolerate all conditions. Certainly Nasturtiums are not keen on overly rich soil and do not ne... more
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Will tolerate a bit of neglect
Disadvantages: Will attract a lot of insects, but these can be beneficial too
To my great amusement, it horrifies my daughters when I go all "Hugh Kills-and-eats-it-all" and eat flowers from the garden. Dandelion fritters, Nettle soup and nasturtium salads always get cries of revulsion and looks of disbelief from my two angels, who (sadly) believe that you can only eat food that has been bought from a supermarket and is nicely packaged without a trace of soil on it. Nasturtiums are a pretty way of adding colour to unloved, poor soil areas of the garden and can be eaten too. Here's some tips on how to grow your own, and what uses nasturtiums have other than just a flower to be looked at and have their bright colours enjoyed.
Nasturtiums are thought to have come from Peru, brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1600's. The name "nasturtium" is latin and when literally translated it means "nose twister" - probably a description of the hot peppery taste which is not dissimilar to cress. Thanks to some clever botanists and commercial seed producers, you can now get both compact dwarf and climbing / rambling varieties, in many different colours from deep purples to bright sunny oranges, yellows, whites and reds.
GROWING YOUR OWN
Seeds can be planted directly outside into the soil from late March / early April onwards in most areas of the UK. To help them start to germinate, they can be soaked in water overnight. They take about two months to grow before you start to get any flowers showing. They do best in poor soil, so are perfect for that bare muddy patch next to the shed in the corner of the garden that embarrasses you a bit. The poorer the soil, the more flowers they will produce, and alternatively if the soil is very rich, they will produce an abundance of foliage but not many flowers. The reason for this is sex - nasturtiums are desperate to sow their seed and have a libido that would make the average teenage lad blush. They are obsessed with a need to reproduce, and if they sense that the soil in which they grow isn't capable of sustaining much life, they will produce a mass of "sex organs" in the form of flowers in the hope that the more seed they spread, the more likely they are to reproduce. The dirty little so and so's, spreading their seed all round my yard, and to think I let my children play out amidst such a den of erotic iniquity.
If you have the climbing / rambling type, you may want to think about the space into which you are going to direct their growth - be it upwards or along the floor. Common rambling types include Jewel of Africa (these have white, red and yellow/orange flowers along their long vines) and "Climbing Mixed" (predominantly red and yellow flowers). They can be trained up a trellis, trailed from a hanging basket or just left to weave their way around the floor.
For dwarf or compact bush types, these do best in pots or used as edgings for borders and won't stray far like the rambling types. Common dwarf types include "Tip Top Apricot" (lovely peachy coloured flowers that sit nicely on top of the foliage) and "Empress of India" (which have a very richly coloured deep red flower).
Most nasturtiums like a sunny spot; remember that these are plants native to South America, but nowadays you can get varieties which tolerate a bit of shade. Once they start to flower, they'll keep going all through the summer and most of mine last till October. I've also found that picking the flowers off will encourage them to produce more, similar to sweet peas. Picking the flowers off will deprive the plant of its desire for some "plant sex", so it teases them into producing more. Who thought that gardening could be so erotic?
Nasturtiums make excellent companion plants - meaning that they will benefit the other plants in your garden simply by their presence. They attract blackflies which can ruin broad bean plants, so if you've got broad beans in your garden, plant some nasturtiums nearby and the blackflies will prefer these instead. Another way you can use nasturtiums as a "sacrificial offering" to insects is to plant them alongside cabbages. They are more of a draw to the cabbage white butterfly than cabbages are, so hopefully the resulting caterpillars will chomp through your nasturtiums instead of your cabbages.
As mentioned before, the flowers can be eaten and give a great little peppery kick to salads, as well as adding a bit of colour to break up the monotonous green of most salads. I've heard you can also eat the big green leaves, but I've never tried this so can't comment. When the flowers die off and start to go to seed, the wrinkled little green seeds can be picked off (before they dry out) and pickled in vinegar to be eaten later. As I have a violent aversion to vinegar, I've never tried this but there are plenty of websites which give you information on how to pickle nasturtium seeds and apparently they taste like capers. Never try to eat seeds from a packet - these are not for eating and most likely will have been coated in fungicides to stop them from rotting in the packet, only eat seeds from nasturtium flowers you have grown.
Nasturtiums have some health benefits too - they are a good source of vitamin C and contain antioxidants which are useful for warding off various types of cancer. However, if you eat too many, then the high oxalic acid content can damage the kidneys. So, as with all things, eat in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
These are fairly easy to grow and don't require huge amounts of care and attention - so long as they get watered once or twice a week they will quite happily grow away and aren't as attention demanding as say, trying to grow your own melons. Their attractiveness to insects makes them good protectors of cabbages and broad beans, and they provide a peppery food source which adds a bit of a colourful twist to salads. Seeds are widely available at all the usual places - Wilkinsons, garden centres etc and can be as cheap as 30p, so shop around. Thanks for reading.
Summary: Easy to grow edible colourful flowers
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