Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plants I Know and Love #12: Nasturtiums

It's the dead of winter, it was 34 degrees outside when I got out of bed, but that is an improvement from the 20 degrees it was on the weekend. The oaks and maples are bare of leaves, the amaryllis belladonna leaves are popping through the red soil, the deer are cropping the new growth of green that covers the yard. It is a crisp sparkly day, so what is the matter with me? I think I have S.A.D. Seasonal Affective Disorder, I think it means. It means I need to get out in the sun. It means I want my summer garden back!

This time of year mostly what you can do in the garden is sit and look at garden catalogs and seed packets and dream and plan for spring...

I am going to tell you today about nasturtiums. These bright glowing annuals are my favorite flowers. I am a Leo, and the nasturtium comes in all Leo colors: orange, yellow, red. Just my cup of tea...
When I was a young and pregnant with my son, living in Southern California, we lived in a little back house with a small side yard. Under a sparse rose bush was a lovely little patch of deep green round leaves which produced one fiery orange flower that was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. What was it? A little research and I found out it was a nasturtium. Oh happy day!
From then on I was in love with nasturtiums. Once I had noticed them, I saw them everywhere, since they love the coast of California. They grew in the beach side gardens of bungalows, along the cliffs of surfing beaches, crawling down the wild steep hills below the mansions perched above the shore of the Pacific. I don't know how I missed them before.
I have grown nasturtiums since, sometimes with good results, sometimes they are stringy and desultory, complaining of too much heat, too little good soil. But I persist. The vase above is filled with nasturtiums I grew in Diamond Springs during a good year.
These two little flowers were growing smack dab in the middle of San Francisco, brightening up a cement wall in front of an old townhouse that had seen better days. The best batch of nasturtiums I ever grew were in the front yard of a duplex where I lived in Elk Grove, California. They were on the north side of the house but got pretty good sun for most of the day. They became a giant thicket, with flowers everywhere, even hidden deep in the leaves. What lovely bouquets I could pick from my yard! What a welcome to friends stopping by.
This batch of determined flowers, including fuchsias, was growing high on a hill in San Francisco, close to a cable car stop, and along and over one of the city's covered water storage reservoirs. The flowers were everywhere! If they are happy with their growing conditions, and don't meet freezing temperatures, nasturtiums will act like perennials and just grow and grow. The leaves can get as big as dinner plates.
These little tangerine lovelies are in the front garden at my Aunt's home in Pleasant Valley. By the end of the summer a few seeds have grown into a lively ground cover. Nasturtiums will happily reseed themselves if they are pleased with the soil and conditions. These are on the West side of her home, and shaded from the late afternoon's hot summer sun by the house.
I love the vintage seed packets that were carefully stored by early twentieth century gardeners. These are from Carthage, Missouri, and could have been used by my great grandmother in her kitchen garden in nearby Avilla. A kitchen garden? Yes, because nasturtiums are edible in all forms, seeds, flowers and leaves. They liven up a salad with a watercress-like spiciness. The seeds can take the place of capers.
This is an advertising postcard that would have been sent out in January. The recipient could respond and order a garden catalog, and dream of picking her own bouquet by late spring and early summer.
Will spring ever come? The promise of better weather and abundant gardens is written all over the beauties on this vintage Roanoke, Virginia seed packet.
Another advertising postcard. How could an avid gardener, suffering with S.A.D., resist ordering a catalog?
The lovely art on an old Mandeville and King Co. seed box. Nasturtiums have a lovely scent. It is sweet without being cloying, with a bit of spiciness added.
Last night I sat in front of our wood fire nice and toasty in my bathrobe and sheepskin slippers, paging through a garden catalog selling spring bulbs. In my mind I grew a large bulb garden filled with peonies, iris, begonias, lilies and gladiolas. But interspersed between were all shades of nasturtiums running rampant along the ground. It may have been my imagination, but it brightened up a cold winter's evening.
If you haven't ordered a few garden catalogs yet, get busy! Go online and look up some of the better known companies such as Burpee, and send in an order. Gather up the bright books when they come and pour yourself a cup of tea and allow yourself to dream of spring. You will perk right up!
Get yourself some nasturtium seeds and plant them in the late spring, after threat of frost is over. Enjoy what could become your favorite flower if you don't watch out!


Jennifer D said...

I just received my Burpee catalog yesterday and I was thinking just like you! I need to be out in my sunny garden but it is under more snow than we have ever had this time of year. ;0( Our mountain has received 311" of snow so far this winter so it is going to be a long time before I get to plant nasturtiums. They are one of my very favorite flowers and I envy the thickets of them my So.Cal family grow. I have one cousin who can't control their growth so she ripped them all out like a weed! Can you imagine?

Heidi Ann said...

The closest I may get to a catalog - since I'm not a gardener with a green thumb - is my new Burpee wall calendar that I just received the other day. I am disappointed with the calendar itself - but I DO like the colorful artwork!
I LOVE your nasturtium collection of beautiful things, and this was certainly a wonderful dream-inspiring post about your favorite flower!

Twyla and Lindsey said...

Nasturtiums are so beautiful and I love all the vintage images you shared of them. I have a green thumb and no gardening skills whatsoever so I don't order from seed catalogs. Maybe one of these days. Twyla

yosemite faith said...

john has been advidly going thru his catalogs - they just started arriving. planning his big garden. loves loves loves going thru those catalogs. only he was doing it by the warmth of his wood stove. great post. i love the old seed packets - back when there were lots of independents around NOT owned by monsanto.