Sunday, July 4, 2010

Flowers in the vegetable garden

My nasturtium 'Spitfire' tee-pee is coming along nicely, although it may be hard to appreciate in this photo, given the visual background of vertically climbing Armenian cukes and a big zucchini muscling in from the side. The nasturtium still boasts mostly foliage, despite careful neglect with the hose and no fertilizer (the oft-recommended approach to get heavy-blooming nasturtiums). I can see lots of little buds up close, so I expect that later this week, I should have a nice tall pyramid of orange blossoms. The overall health of the plant is good, but some older leaves show a bit of curling and this patchy damage:

This nasturtium is more of a sprawler than a climber -- it has required many a twist-tie to keep the growth vertical. This last week, before long days of professional work, I had to venture out in dawn's early light to tie up more of this exuberant plant. Most folks in my neighborhood were still asleep, and there I was, trying to train a lanky, sprawling plant into a nice triangular shape.

As a passionate but harried vegetable gardener, I sometimes wonder why I put any energy into flowers -- I could have spent those precious pre-work minutes nipping suckers off tomatoes or weeding the herb bed. In his off-kilter but occasionally charming book, Joie de Vivre, Robert Arbor (with Katherine Whiteside) reports that even the most practical French vegetable gardeners -- "the crustiest old men" -- always have some annual flowers spilling out of their potager. And why not? They add color and scent to chores. This is not all for aesthetics -- nasturtiums and marigolds offer excellent companion benefits, should one believe the organic gardening folk wisdom.

Yet it is those most excellent garden writers, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, who persuade me that I am right to include flowers among my crops. They argue that for annuals like nasturtiums "their charm resides to a large degree precisely in their naivete, their simple sense of ease and well-being, just in themselves, just in what they are. It is true their colors are often bold and unsubtle....but they are beloved by children, and to any adult they offer the same kind of lift to the heart that occurs when walking through FAO Schwartz at Christmastime". And when facing a week's worth of weeds or an overgrown strawberry bed, who among us doesn't need a lift of the heart? The blooms give me courage to go forth, to carry on. And they do look nice against the cucumber leaves.

"I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds.


  1. Hi Abbie, enjoyed your post about the Salon article, but I gues I missed this one with the holiday and everything.

    I planted more flowers this year than ever in my veggie garden, spilling over the sides as you said. So far, no blooms on my nasturtiums either in the veggie garden or in my hayracks on the shed. You are right, I forgot that fertilizer rule, they've had plenty! Next year, they will have their own pot.


  2. You didn't miss it -- it was posted yesteday when I got back from vacation -- but it was time stamped from when I started it. Oops!

    Hopefully you'll have better luck growing them in pots than I do -- my container nasturtiums really petered out....can't figure out why. Oh well.

  3. And Xan says you can eat nasturtiums--did you see her recipe? Love your veggie planting idea sending them up the teepee.

  4. Wow, you're doing so much better than mine. I really like this post and the spirit is embodies.