When is a Weed not a Weed?

nasturtium"Nasturtiums!" gasped my husband when I told him what I was planning to sow for this year's annual. He's not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to flowers (although he does appreciate them) but it seemed that even he had heard of nasturtiums. "They're not for gardens!" he said. "They're wild things. They climb over piles of rubbish. You see them at the sides of the road. They're those orange things that creep through dumped cars!" He was almost stammering in his attempt to tell me how much he disliked them.

Needless to say, I didn't enter into discussion but quietly went about sourcing the seed. Actually, for a plant so many think of as ubiquitous, I had a great deal of trouble locating a packet so it wasn't until December that I finally sowed the things. That's probably just as well as nasturtiums are frost tender and our late November freeze would have chopped them to the ground. Unfortunately, the colder than usual spring and early summer also brought another problem – rodents! No sooner were my seeds in the soil and sitting in punnets on a sunny window ledge than mice invaded the house, dug up the seed and chomped through them in a single night! Back I went to the shop for another packet and, this time, I covered the seed punnets with glass.

By Christmas, the seedlings were large enough to plant outdoors. Nasturtiums don't enjoy overly moist conditions (which is why they thrive in neglected soils and untended dry spots) so I decided to grow mine in containers where it wouldn't matter too much if they dried out for a day or two. In the warm weather (these plants are sun lovers) they took off and, just as I had hoped, began cascading in colourful trails down the sides of their terracotta urns. They soon began to flower and shortly afterwards I had the pleasure of being called out of the house one afternoon by my husband.

"What are these?" he asked, admiring the blooms of deep red, chocolate brown, lemon, yellow, and orange seemingly suspended in space above a mass of pretty green foliage. "Nasturtiums," I told him. "No," he said. "Those aren't nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are weeds." Once again, I decided not to enter into debate but went inside to fetch the seed packet ('Nasturtium tall trailing mixed') so he could see for himself. He was pleasantly convinced and I (rather graciously I felt) accepted his apologies.

The admiration of my so-called 'weeds' from visitors to the garden over summer was such that I plan to repeat the plantings next year but with an even more exciting range of seed. Kings Seeds offer 'Nasturtium Whirlybird Mixed' which includes flowers in shades of 'soft salmon' and 'cherry rose', and 'Nasturtium Day and Night' which is a mix of cream and mahogany flowers. I might even order a packet of 'Flowering Black Velvet'. If I have to justify my spending spree I suppose I could always start pickling the pods which are known as 'poor man's capers' but as my husband seems to be as admiring of the flowers as I am, somehow I don't think that will be necessary!

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