Re-evaluating nasturtiums

It was seven years ago that I posted about nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus and T. minor), and I was not very kind to them. In particular, I criticised the strain ‘Phoenix’ for not being true to type. Now, I am older and have more space and, perhaps, I have become more tolerant (doubtful).

Nasturtiums wandering about among other plants

Whatever the reason, I am having second thoughts about these easygoing annuals. Over the (4) years in this garden I have deliberately planted several kinds, in particular, pale cream ‘Milkmaid’ in one area and multicoloured, variegated ‘Alaska’ in others. They have seeded about and they pop up and fill in between other plants and I am grateful. If the borders were better planted and if I had some precious plants that risked being swamped I would pull out more of the seedlings in spring but I am tolerating lots of them at the moment. As I have previously said, they can hide their flowers under the foliage so, as bedding plants, they fail, but in this more informal situation, they work very well. It is one of those classic cases of there being nothing wrong with the plant, it is what the gardener does with it. They do leave seeds everywhere but the seedlings are easy to identify and to pull up.

But my reason for having a major change of heart is that this year I have tried ‘Phoenix’ again. As I said in my previous post, I am sure that originally this was sold by Thompson & Morgan as plug plants, possibly grown from cuttings. Although we treat T. majus as an annual, it is strictly a frost-tender perennial and I used to have the wonderful double ‘Hermine Grassoff’ which needs to be propagated by cuttings in summer and overwintered in gentle heat. I am sure that ‘Phoenix’ originated with a T&M customer and was then developed and I assume that it was soon found to come true from seed and so seeds were widely available. So this spring I sowed some seed from a French seed company (it is now easier to get seeds from France (or probably Venus) than the UK thanks to Brexit). Germination was surprisingly poor so I didn’t have many plants and could not use them as I intended. Instead I put them in a raised bed to trail over the sides. The bed itself was planted with salvias but these have been a bit of a damp squib. They have suffered in the heat and dry weather, despite watering, and the variety is too dwarf. I will just ignore them for now.

‘Phoenix’ is rather special because the flowers are rather spidery, with flame-like petals. The foliage is smaller than usual too and it is often listed as T. minor rather than T. majus. Although sometimes listed as a climbing variety, this should be relatively compact but it makes sense that a seed-raised plant could be changed, over time. My plants were slow to get going but then threw long stems across the bed and I despaired as the nasturtiums threatened to swamp the salvias. But I summoned the courage to carefully extricate the stems and pull them all over the side of the bed. It looked awful for a week until the new foliage covered the bare stems. And then the plants filled in nicely and started to bloom profusely.

The colour range is not as wide as I might expect, with most being gold or red with few showing the mahogany marks and bicolors I was expecting. But at the moment this is one of the nicest things in the garden.

In addition, there are no blackfly, no sign of caterpillars and the bumblebees adore the flowers.

Of course, the flowers are edible too but I have not sampled them yet. But I will definitely be collecting seeds and will be planting it again next year, probably somewhere it can sprawl down a bank.

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15 Comments on “Re-evaluating nasturtiums”

  1. Dee
    August 4, 2022 at 8:36 am #

    I think there’s nothing nice than nasturtiums in the garden but in my location, overlooking Atlantic, they’re just not doing well at all and every year I have to start afresh buying packets of seeds because they never reseed themselves. Repeated violent storms, getting worse with climate change just don’t give these tender plants a chance and I think the snails and slugs are eating them, pests which are prospering due to the amount of New Zealand flax I’ve had to plant as a shelter belt. For the few that manage to put out a few delicious round leaves and beautiful flowers, I’m inclined to pick both in passing as delicious peppery morsels, even more delicious and beautiful if they get as far as my salad plate. Wish they were hardier! We never get frost here, any dropped seeds seem to rot over the
    winter months as they never grow again to my great disappointment.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 4, 2022 at 8:42 am #

      I am so sorry that you can’t grow nasturtiums easily. I feel even more guilty for being mean about them. I can appreciate that the snails might make their homes in your phormiums. Even so, i would have thought that nasturtiums would have been moderately happy by the coast – but extreme wind might smash them and you know what is going on. I will never take them for granted again!

  2. Paddy Tobin
    August 4, 2022 at 9:04 am #

    How would they manage in dry shaded areas?

    • thebikinggardener
      August 4, 2022 at 12:01 pm #

      I know why you are asking – snowdrops. It is far from ideal for them but worth a try. I will save some seeds of phoenix and send you some – it would be a good one to try because it naturally has a moderately spreading habit and smaller leaves. I think standard ones will produce massive leaves in shade and hide the blooms – ‘Phoenix’ has a chance to look decent.

      • Paddy Tobin
        August 4, 2022 at 1:31 pm #

        I’d be delighted to give that a try. Many thanks.

  3. tonytomeo
    August 4, 2022 at 2:38 pm #

    Nasturtiums were the first flowers that I grew from seed when I was a kid. They are still one of my favorites. The grow through winter, and before they succumb to the warmth of spring, they replace themselves with seedlings that tolerate the warmth until autumn. Before those plants succumb to the cool weather of autumn, they replace themselves with seedlings that tolerate the cold weather until spring. They are always there.

    • tonytomeo
      August 4, 2022 at 2:40 pm #

      (Of course, the fancier varieties revert to common orange and yellow after a few generations. Only a few varieties, like ‘Empress of India’ are true to type.)

      • thebikinggardener
        August 4, 2022 at 3:32 pm #

        Because I have different types in different parts of the garden they do self-seed fairly true. I pull up rogues if I don’t like them so they don’t mess up the gene pool.

        • tonytomeo
          August 5, 2022 at 2:39 am #

          Yes, some are remarkably true to type. I just happen to prefer those that are not. They are the sort that I remember from when I was a kid.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 4, 2022 at 3:30 pm #

      That is just the opposite of here. Because they melt in the frost the plants are gone by November and any seedlings that dare poke their heads up before the last frost (maybe April or maybe May) get blasted. Then the last batch germinate and bloom all summer.

      • tonytomeo
        August 5, 2022 at 2:38 am #

        Well, I think that is normal. The frost here is just relatively mild. It can ruin nasturtiums every few years or so. Some consider nasturtiums to be cool season annuals that do not survive the summer, so I suppose that they do not do double duty everywhere here.

        • thebikinggardener
          August 5, 2022 at 10:17 am #

          The traditional view here is always to plant them in poor, dry soil so they do not get too ‘leafy’.

          • tonytomeo
            August 6, 2022 at 8:11 am #

            I plant them anywhere I want to, which my neighbors may not approve of. Those in better soil are more ‘leafy’, but I can not complain. I put some in my planter box downtown, and they grew like weeds! They bloomed nicely also, which was nice for such weedy growth. I am not so keen on the climbing sort though. I certainly like them, but can not find a practical application for them. They get so big, but do not bloom so well.

            • thebikinggardener
              August 6, 2022 at 8:15 am #

              I tried to recreate childhood memories by planting climbing nasturtiums up trellis this year but so far they have made no attempt to climb, nor even spread sideways. There is time but they are slow to throw out those sprawling stems.

              • tonytomeo
                August 7, 2022 at 1:32 am #

                That i an interesting observation. They grow wild in coastal areas here, generally where they are unwanted. However, if planted intentionally in a garden, they are slow to get established. Once they do, that tend to shed their lower foliage as they generate more upper foliage, so are not as pretty as they can be in the wild.

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