I am a bit player in the legacy of a nasturtium dynasty. My mother, Molly Bush, was our matriarch. She sowed annual nasturtium seeds devotionally every Good Friday. This was a few weeks before the last frost date. She knew what she was doing.
Seeds were sown along a warm, exposed southern wall of my Louisville childhood home. The spirit of Good Friday worked magically. Her baby nasturtiums were never caught by a late frost.
Molly planted nasturtiums with joy
She would cringe if she, God rest her soul, knew I dared call her a matriarch. Mom was an unpretentious gardener who adored her treasured ornamental nasturtiums.
Matters of their edibility, however, were not factored in between weekly supper servings of meat loaf and cherry Jell-O. Euell Gibbon’s name was never brought up.
Nasturtium know-how skipped a generation
My daughter Molly is a gardener, forager, herbalist, and nasturtium devotee in Bellingham, WA. Two weeks ago, she taught her dad a few tricks. Molly and her family eat nasturtium leaves, flowers, and seed pods from the garden. They have a “peppery, almost mustard-like taste, which makes them lovely as a garnish in salad,” according to Sequoia Seeds. “The seedpods may also be pickled and used like capers.” Molly’s mom, Ali Mathews, taught us a new trick. Ever tried Nasturtium Jell-O? I did a taste test.
Imagine a cake, slathered in blueberry icing and decorated with blooms of nasturtiums, calendulas, feverfew and dotted with blueberries? We went to a dinner party at Amy and Drew Daly’s and met Phoebe Wahl, the award-award winning children’s book author who turns out to be fine baker and nasturtium lover. Check out her Nasturtium Fairy.
Bellingham may be the “City of Subdued Excitement,” but they know how to put on a nasturtium show.
I was not a child floral prodigy
Easter Sunday brought the church’s miracle, along with the gift of a single Easter Lily cut flower, and a potted red geranium for all the children. Death followed long before Ascension Day. Funny thing: geraniums, sitting on the back of the downstairs toilet, need occasional watering.
Redemption took time. Gardening blessed me in my early 20s and was never forsaken. I can’t, however, recall growing nasturtiums. I was snobbish. I coveted the newest and attempted the impossible and failed often. There was some success, but Himalayan blue poppies didn’t take to central Kentucky. Neither did species of Lewisia, western North American rocky and gravel dwellers. Lewisia’s purslane cousin is a carpeting weed that tastes like Bibb lettuce. It is right at home in the cracks of our front walk.
Gardeners eventually get comfortable with some weeds and some failure. I graze on volunteer lamb’s quarters every day. My hollyhock leaves have been perforated by rust again this year.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) come close to fool-proof, but if you imagine them as common annuals only, think again. You need to read how Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum creates their “iconic Hanging Nasturtiums display.”
I returned to my family’s roots this year
Molly sent a decorative tin of nasturtium seeds, from Sequoia Seeds, for my May birthday, six weeks after Good Friday.
Seeds were sown on the thin soil surrounding a new stump—the remnant of a vicious windstorm in March that toppled a 50-year-old white pine. It was not the only damaging windstorm to topple trees this year all over central Kentucky. My arborist friend Matt Sullivan said he can’t recall so many devastating storms in these first six months during his 40-year career.
Fifty or so seeds, out of 200, germinated. Not bad, considering: the first few weeks of June were bone dry. I missed a watering or two. Abundant July rains picked up the slack.
By early August, twisting nasturtium stems, with fresh green round leaves, like moon jellyfish, tumbled over the pine stump with yellow, red and orange blooms.
Momma would be proud.