Growing nasturtiums

Posted: Thursday 28 November 2013
by Kate Bradbury

I love nasturtiums. They’re the ultimate cheerful, low-maintenance plant.

Nasturtium leaves and flowers

I didn’t think the nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, could get any cooler. It grows in poor soil, self seeds readily, makes a great companion plant and has both edible flowers and seeds. But now it has inspired US engineers to create the "most waterproof material ever". What a plant.

According to the news report, tests have shown that nasturtium leaves repel water 40 per cent more efficiently than lotus leaves (the previous inspiration for so-called ‘hydrophobic’ materials). It’s all about the ridges, apparently. Each nasturtium leaf has lots of tiny ridges, which water bounces off on contact. Synthetic materials based on nasturtium leaves could be used to make a new generation of tents and outdoor clothing, and may even be used in the production of aircraft engines, to stop them icing over.

I love nasturtiums. They’re the ultimate cheerful, low-maintenance plant. Because they’re happy in poor soil and don’t need much watering, they’re perfect for window boxes, hanging baskets and pots, and lazy gardeners, and will flower from summer through to autumn. And they’re so easy to grow – simply scatter seed over prepared soil in late spring and they will germinate within a few days.

When grown as a companion plant, nasturtiums help lure aphids away from beans, and they are also also thought to deter woolly aphids and whitefly, as well as help to improve the flavour of brassicas. On top of all that, the peppery flowers can be added to salads, and the seeds can be pickled to make an alternative to capers.

There are plenty of varieties to choose from, including those with cream, yellow, orange, red and burgundy flowers. You can opt for climbing cultivars to grow up a wigwam with climbing beans, or dwarf varieties for pots and beds. Some varieties – such as ‘Alaska’ – have green and white variegated leaves. One of my favourite nasturtiums is 'Empress of India', a dwarf variety with lovely dark red flowers and dark green leaves.

Of course, because they’re so good at luring pests away from other crops, nasturtiums tend to be ravaged by aphids and caterpillars. But that’s another reason why I love them. These are plants that just keep on giving.

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Talkback: Growing nasturtiums
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oldchippy 29/11/2013 at 16:22

Hi Kate I hope you have warmed up from your photo shoot.

Kate Bradbury 30/11/2013 at 09:40

Ha. Thanks Old chippy.

Stacey Docherty 30/11/2013 at 10:17

I agree and the pods are wonderful when pickled....

Chris 22 30/01/2014 at 20:59

When we moved back into our house that had been leased for 4 years, it was too late to do much to the garden except, weed, weed and weed... so I popped in some nasturtiums seeds and wow they were so pretty and certainly good value as they self seeded and now three years later still grow all over the place.