The garden is a different place this year. Colder, wetter, far more quiet. Frankly, conditions nasturtiums thrive under. Grey skies, chill soil, neglect – bring it on!
Good ol’ nasturtiums. They wantonly seed themselves around the backyard and always seem to find the perfect spot to pair up with more permanent plantings; part court jester, part class clown. Their brilliant blossoms and round matte leaves artlessly insinuate themselves among more static wallflowers and into the gaps between rocks in the gabion bench in careless but ideal compositions that go beyond heavy-handed “design” considerations. It’s like real life: you just can’t make this stuff up.
Long ago I planted ‘Tip Top Mahogany’ for its deep claret colored blossoms and limey-green foliage. ‘Black Velvet’ has even deeper petals – more burgundy than pinot – with slightly blue green leaves. Very chic, almost prim and proper in a fashionable LBD sort of way. Apparently I missed capturing their polite presence on pixel as I can’t for the life of me find an image to post here.
Of course, subsequent generations have a mind of their own: don’t they always. Most years plenty of straight Tropaeolum majus orange flowers accompany the occasional wine colored couture bloom. Garden variety meets designer bloom with an impact greater than any I could orchestrate.
Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking. What about all the disgusting aphids? I can truthfully say, some years they never show up. Only in hindsight do I appreciate that simple grace. Blindly anticipating ripening fruit on the carefully staked tomatoes and busily controlling the (*%$*&#) caterpillars on the fashionably purple Brussels sprouts, I almost fail to notice abundance at my feet. The years the little black, sesame-seeded pests proliferate I simply tear out the entire mess and await the next generation to raise its colorful head.
For so long I couldn’t get rid of this loyal garden companion if I tried. I could always count on nasties to fill in the corners and crevices of my garden’s weak spots. But not this year – not so far.
It’s a strange feeling for someone (me) who has spent so much time outside. I know more about the workings of a garden and the 12 months as they play out in my Pacific Northwest backyard than I do about world politics, the maintenance of a car, or the arcane intricacies of my cell-phone plan.
I’m stronger on environmental issues; the garden writ large. I care more about compost and cutworms than I do about dusting and laundry – and it shows. Kitchen arts are the exception. After all, only in the kitchen are you required to drag the outdoors in. Everything on the table began in the garden in some form or another.
To some I am an “expert” – whatever that means. Last Sunday at the Farmer’s Market choosing my tomato starts in the busy stall of my favorite grower, I was approached by a familiar face; a former customer from my now, long-shuttered nursery. “You have such a distinctive voice. I knew you would know the answer and everyone else is busy, how do I…” she queried.
Of course I was flattered. We all want to be valued, our skills recognized. It was only later that I had a little OWEN MEANY moment at that reference to my voice. “Mom, that laugh…” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. We can only hear what’s in our own heads. Were that it wasn’t so…
So who do I ask about 2011’s strange abandonment by my formerly faithful nasturtiums? Can I really trust those few dime-sized leaves that have shown up to furnish the garden with their customary display?
I had no idea how much I had grown to anticipate each year’s wonky color combo of bloom and leaf. I miss them and I’m second guessing myself. I’ve obviously grown complacent. Maybe I should have planted seed, or started all over again with fresh starts from my farmer’s market vendor. Or maybe this is yet again, one of those “don’t push the river” lessons I’m supposed to learn from.
Play along at home. Territorial Seed stocks Nasturtium ‘Black Velvet’ and you can get ‘Tip Top Mahogany’ from Botanical Interests. ‘Peach Melba’ holds strong through several generations as you see in the picture above and is available through Sunrise Seeds. Simply sow and watch the garden unfold.