Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Plants that self seed in unexpected places have always intrigued me. ...especially when they are hybridized flowers gone rogue.
So when I spotted this sweet little nasturtium growing along the edge of a raised bed in my community garden, it gave me an idea. Maybe I could plant nasturtium seeds in sidewalk cracks, waste places and abandoned city lots. And more people could enjoy these mini “ life in the cracks” surprises.
So I bought some Nasturtium seeds, which are large and round and easily pushed into the ground. In fact, Nasturtiums are a perfect plant for this undertaking. They will grow in sandy soil and need little watering or fertilization. Just the conditions we have here in West Michigan. And it turns out there is a name for what I’m doing...guerilla gardening.
Of course, Nasturtiums are very happy in your yard or garden also. They are easy to grow, making them good plants for beginning gardeners and children. Seeds can be planted after the last spring frost about half an inch deep in the soil, and plants will reliably produce leaves and flowers in a relatively short time. Traditional flower colors include red, yellow, orange, and creamy white.
There are many other reasons to plant Nasturtiums. Planting them near the vegetable garden can serve as an aphid trap, drawing garden pests away from the produce. Nasturtiums also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds if a pollinator garden is what you are after. And the trailing varieties will cover an unsightly wall or fence.
A member of the mustard family, Nasturtiums are native to Peru and symbolize patriotism. This annual flowering herb will self sow and grows wild in our southern and western states. It’s name comes from the French word meaning “nose twister.” Popular varieties include Alaska Salmon, Orchid Flame, Cherry Rose, Purple Emperor, Black Velvet, Canary Creeper, and Bloody Mary. There is also a variety called Yeti, named after the ape-like mythical creature of the Himalayan mountains.
Cooks and foragers will find many uses for Nasturtiums. All parts of the plant are edible including leaves, flowers and seed pods. It can be added to soups, salads, omelettes, and pizza. The lily-pad leaves make a tasty pesto and it is high in Vitamin C, iron and lutein.