Nasturtiums are boisterous annuals that shout with vivid hues of orange, yellow and red. Sophisticated gardeners distain nasturtiums, and I can see why: They tend to take over the spring garden, engulfing prized plants that also are newly in bloom.
I love nasturtiums, although on occasion they annoy me. They’re nostalgia flowers that remind me of my dad’s avocado orchard, where they filled sunny patches. Every spring I picked fistfuls, and there were always plenty.
These are perfect annuals for kids. The seeds are large—pea-sized when green, about half that size when dry. They sprout dependably and come back year after year. Sweet nectar gathers at the base of sepal, like honeysuckle, and the flowers have a peppery flavor. Best of all, the leaves make great toys.
Any dewy morning, the pancake-sized leaves will have at their center iridescent drops of water, silver on the underside because they sit on a cushion of air. Nasturtium leaves have a coating that repels water, so at the slightest touch, droplets slither off. Carefully pick a leaf and you can make the drop roll around. You can even make it jump, then catch it. I’ve entertained every visiting child with this and quite a few adults.
From a design standpoint, nasturtiums are lovely cascading from terraces or pots atop pedestals, and are useful for lining pathways.
Contrast the flowers with a purple or blue gate or wall…
…and with plants that have dark leaves, such as Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ (photo from Designing with Succulents).
Combine nasturtiums with ivy geraniums and other crayon-hued blooms…
…and let them entwine outdoor furniture.
There are mounding and vining varieties of nasturtiums; know which you’re planting so it suits the area. Nasturtiums won’t tolerate frost or desert heat and prefer sandy soil. Thanks to their dew-catching ability, they are somewhat drought-tolerant. They will become rampant, but are easy to keep in check. In summer, simply tug on the vines to uproot them. Lots of seeds will have fallen beneath, ensuring a resurgence the following year. Or buy packets of the seeds (look for lovely hybrids) and start afresh the following year.