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).
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.