The home where I grew up had acres of lovely gardens and when I married and able to buy my first home it was a small farm in Geauga County. That first spring, eager to begin to live the sustainable lifestyle that I’d always dreamed of my husband and I planted fruit trees, masses of vegetables and even a patch of asparagus. 5 years later our son Alex was born and together the three of us lived a fairly idyllic life until we moved back into the city 21 years later, choosing to rent an apartment because we weren’t sure what our next real move would be. I’d given up a life that I loved for the reality of caring for my aging parents and although I never regretted the choice I’m sure that you can imagine my dismay when spring came the following year and I had no place to plant even one tiny heirloom tomato. I found a wee bit of unused earth in the area behind our apartment building but was told that it needed to be kept landscaped ,which actually meant only a lawn and completely devoid of all other flowers . Ick!
That year not long after Easter I walked into a bookstore and went longingly over to the gardening section. I was simply browsing but then I saw a beautiful book on container gardening, something I’d never really tried before. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up to me. I had a beautiful but very small third floor patio with a southwestern exposure and when I say small it was literally no more than 8 feet long and perhaps 4 feet deep. But I was determined to find a way to have fresh tomatoes and basil that summer …nothing was going to stop me! I really didn’t know what I was doing which was probably a good thing because if I had really followed the rules I would never have attempted to grow so many of the vegetables that I did. Determined to learn more and help pay for this new found hobby, I took a job at the local garden center doing what? Creating container gardens! I had a blast mixing all of the herbs and flowers to create gorgeous hayracks and window boxes that my customers loved. The best part was that I was given free rein and I learned about all of the likes and dislikes of the plants in the process.
That was the first spring that I ever planted nasturtiums! I had met them before growing wild along the fence at my sisters home in La Jolla, giant orange and golden mutants of flowers that tasted sweet and peppery hot like the California sunshine that I taught my son to enjoy simply because he could have a wild snack whenever he passed them by! The nasturtiums that I planted cooperated happily and transformed that little balcony into an abundant garden that helped feed us incredible salads all summer long. I lined the railing with flower boxes and planted all of my herbs in them and masses of nasturtiums both yellow and gold. I grew lettuces all along the bottom of the railing in boxes until they bolted with the summer heat. I had hanging baskets of strawberries and cherry tomatoes and I grew paste tomatoes for sauce by planting them against the metal railing and using the rails for support. I grew beans by running them up an old bakers rack that I was using for potting supplies and I used every bit of ceiling space that I had for flower baskets. I even grew a blueberry bush in one of my containers. It was an amazing experiment and I couldn’t believe just how much food I was able to grow in that small space. The fun continued when I woke up one morning to find sunflowers beginning to grow in several of my containers. I didn’t plant them myself, so I can only assume that they were a gift from the Mourning Doves that used one of the unplanted clay pots to nest in.
That was the year that I learned that no matter what and no matter where I found myself, I could feed my family easily. My husband and I spent evening after evening sitting with glasses of wine on that tiny porch while we ate fresh salads and bowls of pasta topped with tangy farmers cheese that I made myself from raw goats milk, and nasturtiums and pesto that came from the many varieties of basil that I grew in my containers. Summer came and went, but not without gifting me with lots of herbs, the occasional tomato through autumn and when Thanksgiving finally arrived I was still able to pick fresh sage for my chestnut stuffing and fresh Nasturtiums for my salad! Believe me when I say that I was more delighted with that small harvest than I ever was with the large gardens that I left behind.
Extremely high in Vitamin C and used by many herbalists as a natural blood cleanser and antibiotic, Nasturtiums are so easy to grow in containers and if you plant some you’ll be rewarded with more beautiful flowers than you’ll know what to do with so here are some really simple suggestions! Take a wedge of Boursin or any other herb filled soft cheese and cream it even more with a bit of butter and half and half. You can even add some finely minced nasturtium petals for flavor and color! Put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe just a bit into the center of a nasturtium blossom for a wonderful hor d’ oeuvre. Make sure before you fill them that you’ve checked each blossom for bugs! If you’ve grown them organically you won’t need to worry about washing them which is better anyhow because the flavor IS better. Just dust them off with a soft vegetable brush and use.
You already know that I love to use them in green salads, but they are also incredibly delicious chopped into egg salad with fresh chives and a bit of apple and curry. I’ve also used the same mixture for deviled eggs and I love to add currants and sliced almonds for a satisfying sweet/ spicy flavor!
I also love to make a dipping sauce for fresh asparagus and artichokes using mayonnaise (Hellmans please) or Vegannaise as the base. Put about a cup of it into the blender and add fresh lemon juice , a bit of Braggs liquid amino acids (like soy sauce without the soy!) and lots of fresh herbs and nasturtium flowers. Blend it all up and serve!
Nasturtium buds are delicious also and you could pickle them like they do in South America or just toss them straight into your salads. Just be sure to pick the young green ones because as they get older they will be too hard to eat. They are wonderful, peppery like the flowers but with a very satisfying crunch. Nasturtium leaves are edible as well and tossed into a wonderful salad with some fresh dandelion , violet leaves and chickweed make a wonderful wild salad that is rich with minerals , vitamins and sunshine. Speaking of salads, you can make a wonderful nasturtium vinegar by heating some white wine vinegar to almost a boil and then adding lots of the blossoms and letting them steep for a few days. Your vinegar will be colored depending upon which color flowers you use, but I find that the bright red makes the loveliest vinegar. Decant into clear bottles and enjoy the warm peppery flavor all year round !
One of my favorite recipes for soup is a wonderful gazpacho that I make with fresh tomatoes, pineapple, cucumber onions, garlic ,about 4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, Green , red and gold peppers, a bit of smoky chipotle, about a cup and a half of fresh almonds and nasturtium blossoms. Place all of the ingredients (you decide how much of each you'd like!) into a blender with about 1 cup of half and half and two cups of water and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chives, goat cheese , fresh basil and enjoy!
Nasturtiums grown in containers don’t like to have their feet too wet and they will enjoy being fed with a time release fertilizer like Osmocote at least once every month. For containers choose the trailing variety and give them a space where they can stretch their legs and get really bushy and blossom-full!
You'll enjoy them all summer and if you have a wonderfully sunny exposure you'll probably have some blooms through autumn.