Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Problem with Nasturtiums Is...

...basically that they behave badly for proper garden plants. In my experience.

As a young person, I thought they were, frankly, boring. In my middle years, this import from Peru caught on as an herb among the food cognescenti. That made me take a new look at the nasturtium.

But what sold me was a visit in the late summer of '88 or '89 to the Bay Area. Husband and I made a day trip up Highway 1 north of San Francisco to Point Reyes. Just past Stinson Beach, the nasturtium vines had gone wild, filling declivities between roadside dunes with brilliant yellows, oranges and reds in the midst of lush green leaves and climbing any bush, fence pole or shrub in sight.

I liked that. So every year, I plant seeds. Sometimes a plant or two comes up. Once in a while, a plant blooms. This year, I had all of three plants bloom. Lots of foliage, mind you, but the red fellow above, in the strawberry pot, was the best of the lot. It was supposed to be a bushy plant; I guess it was, though it did vine a tad.

I figured that was that until a couple of weeks ago, when blossoms began to pop out of this heavy-duty ivy that's trying to take over my porch. A very leafy nasturtium had suddenly headed north into the ivy at high speed and decided to bloom along the way.

As you can see, the plant has invested heavily in leaves!

Here's a close up of one of the flowers.

At this point, the vine has emerged uphill from the ivy and the slats of a potting shelf and is heading for the sky. There are flower buds all along the stem, too.

This flower emerged through the slats; I moved a leaf to make it visible.

So my question, Mr. Burpee, is just what do I do to make my nasturtiums more reliable?

The seed package says "loosen rich, well drained soil in sunny area." OK, I did that except in pots. "Water sparingly and don't fertilize" and then this: "rich soil encourages leafy growth but few flowers."

Do I detect a smidgen of contradiction there? It sounds like instructions for me back in Illinois, where you drop a seed in the ground, turn your back and then harvest. I'm in Arizona these days. Is a mixture of my decayed granite sufficiently un-rich as to favor flowers over leafy green? What is sufficient water, from an arid zone point of view? Thinking back on those California coastal plants, all the moisture they got during the summer was in the form of dew (see the interesting dew effect below!) And their soil had to be sand.

Help! Any successful nasturtium growers out there?


Anonymous said...

Yeah. At the back of our lot we have a crop of self seeded Nastys that have come up every year that we've been here (33). We are lacking; however, the dark maroon velvety plants. I think that there is a cluster of them next to a garage down the way. I'll have to do a bit of midnight requisitioning.

Granny J said...

So, dear bro, they grow beautifully in your climate which is practically the same as Calif. No surprise there. You're the lucky one. Now, tell me what I do up in the AZ mountains!!

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