Nasturtiums are pleasant nose twisters

By Lee Reich, The Associated Press
Saturday June 01, 2002

Most people envision waterlilies daubed on large canvases when they think of the artist Monet’s flowers. Nasturtiums are another possibility, for Monet planted them in abundance. They spilled out of beds into paths, frothing like ocean water on a beach to soften his garden’s edges. 

Nasturtiums are good flowers even for beginning gardeners. The large seeds germinate reliably, and do not need starting indoors for early bloom. Press a few seeds into the ground even now and you will be rewarded with nonstop bloom in a few weeks. The round, slightly bluish leaves are distinctive, making it easy to distinguish seedlings from weedlings. And once nasturtiums take off, they blanket the ground thickly enough to crowd out weeds. 

Nasturtium flowers come in bright reds and oranges and yellows, toned down by masses of foliage so as never to be too glaring. Be careful not to give nasturtiums too rich a soil, or the foliage will overgrow and hide too many of the blossoms. Dwarf varieties, growing only a foot or so high, are good for small window boxes or in pots. There also are semi-trailing types, which sprawl outward a couple of feet or more. Nasturtium can cover a fence if you plant a climbing type, which typically grows about 7 feet tall and has single, fragrant flowers. Climbing nasturtiums grasp to support with their twining leaf stalks, just as clematis vines do. 

Bright flowers and lush masses of pretty, round leaves are enough to ask for from any plant, but nasturtiums offer even more. You can eat them. Nasturtium flowers liven up salads with their color and peppery flavor. That peppery flavor, incidentally, gives the plant its name, which means “nose twister.” It will make your nose respond the way it does to mustard or radishes. 

Nasturtium is one of those plants that could be called a “supermarket” plant, because it provides such a variety of foods. If you tire of eating the flowers, eat the leaves, in sandwiches, chopped directly into salads, or mixed into butter to make a spicy spread. Pickled, the large seeds or seed pods make savory substitutes for capers (which are pickled buds of an unrelated Mediterranean bush).