Nasturtiums make a great addition to a kitchen garden, for several reasons. Firstly, they come in lots of hot, bright colours, and really cheer the place up when there’s a lot of green around. Secondly, they’re edible – you can add the leaves and flowers to salads (they have a peppery flavour, best used in moderation) and if you pickle the seeds you have a good substitute for capers. Thirdly, they act as sacrificial plants, drawing blackfly and other pests away from more valuable crops. And finally, they’re really easy to grow, to the point where after the first year they’re likely to grow themselves.
Nasturtiums are hardy annuals, meaning that they’re not afraid of the cold and they complete their whole lifecycle (from seed, to plant, to flower, to seed) in one season. They come in a range of colours, and in several forms – trailing, climbing, and dwarf. If you choose the right sort they can fit in most gardens, scrambling up screens, tumbling down from hanging baskets or ranging underneath taller plants.
Suttons have a range of nasturtium seeds to suit every garden – from trailing to climbing, in pale and bright shades.
Nasturtiums have big seeds and grow quickly, which makes them ideal for children to try sowing. They can be sown outdoors (where you want them to flower) from early spring to around midsummer, and if you want them earlier you can start them indoors from late winter and transplant them outside in spring (they will need hardening off).
Nasturtiums aren’t fussy about soil, and don’t need to be fed – giving them fertilizer encourages more green growth than flowers. They do need to be watered in dry weather, but are pretty tolerant and self-reliant.
If you don’t eat all the flowers then seeds will start to form from summer onwards. If you want to pickle them you need to harvest the seeds when they’re fresh and green. If you want to save seed to grow next year, then wait until the seeds ripen and turn brown. If they fall off the plant it doesn’t matter – their size makes them easy to collect from the ground. Store them somewhere cool and dry and you can use them for next year’s seed or swap them with your friends.
Nasturtiums have a tendency to self-seed, that is they will grow without your help if the seeds fall on the ground. If you don’t want them where they grow then the seedlings are easy to pull up and compost; otherwise you can have nasturtiums in your garden every year when you only sowed them once!
You’ll find more articles like this in the basics section of the website. You can also read my nasturtium taste test, or find out about their role in eating for healthy eyes. Nasturtiums have long been a favourite in my garden, and they feature in my first book, The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An A to Z.