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Nasturtiums bring back childhood memories
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
This coming spring has all the signs of being a good year to bring back that old-fashioned plant, the nasturtium. I considered writing about plants for cold, saturated conditions, but decided to write about a plant that is beautiful, edible, suitable in the flowerbed and perfect for tucking in containers.
Last year I had the opportunity to see practically a nasturtium revival. There were tons of nasturtiums in hanging baskets and used in ways I had never seen or even considered. If we gardeners keep our eyes open, there will always be opportunities to learn.
The nasturtium is a good plant for Mississippi if we realize its limitations. This is an excellent cool spring plant with shockingly colorful flowers that will fade away as soon as it gets hot. We can prolong the blooms by choosing a location with afternoon shade.
Botanically speaking, the nasturtium is Tropaeolum majus and is native to the cooler altitudes in the Andean mountains in South America.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed as germination takes place in about 10 days. It is probably a good idea to start transplants for garden planting after the last freeze, which may be in late May (just kidding). Fertile, well-drained soil is a must. Space plants about one foot apart. When transplanting or using transplants, handle them gently because they have a brittle taproot.
Nasturtiums come in single and double forms; some are bushy and others are almost climbing.
When I was a child growing up in Mason, Texas, a small German community, it was a treat to go down to Honey Creek and harvest watercress to be used in salads. Nasturtium also has the common name of Indian Cress. The tender leaves, flowers and young seedpods are edible and have a flavor resembling the watercress I harvested way back then.
The leaves are round and give a unique texture in the garden and in a mixed container. The leaves of the Alaska variety give the appearance of having a dash of white paint while Red Wonder, one of the newest selections, has a purplish cast.
The first time I saw Red Wonder, I was with some other producers, and we all found ourselves staring at it. We all knew it was a nasturtium, but it looked so tropical with its deep red color. It was also used mixed with several other species of plants, and we were all wondering why we didn't think of that.
Whether it is Red Wonder or another variety, you have options of growing them with their complementary colors, such as orange selections with blue ageratums or yellow varieties with violet to purple. You will soon find yourself being more daring not only with other flower colors but leaf coloration as well.
The nasturtium is not a New Gold lantana that will bloom until frost. It is a plant that while in bloom while spark comments like "I love those flowers; I remember those as a kid," or "I remember Grandma putting those in salads." This may be the year to share with your children some of your childhood memories by growing nasturtiums, and who knows this may entice them to eat a little salad, too!