More is better.

For the love of wanton annuals.

For the love of wanton annuals. (C) Lorene Edwards Forkner

I like to turn hardy annuals loose in my garden, for the flowers of course, but just as much for the chance to observe how subsequent generations play out. It’s not often we get to watch evolution in real time. Calendula, poppies, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, and clarkia, to name but a few, are hardy annuals that flourish in Pacific Northwest gardens. Not only that, their blossoms provide valuable pollen and nectar for insects, birds, and butterflies that animate the garden.

But in recent years I’ve grown especially attached to nasturtiums. Good ole nasturtiums. They wantonly seed themselves around the backyard and always seem to find the perfect spot to pair with more permanent plantings. I’ve come to rely on “nasties” to fill in the corners and crevices of my garden’s weak spots. 

Brilliant — or subtle — nasturtium blossoms and their round matte leaves artlessly insinuate themselves among more static perennials and fill the gaps between rocks in the gabion bench, creating careless but ideal compositions that go beyond heavy-handed “design” considerations. It’s like real life — you just can’t make this stuff up. It’s also a valuable lesson in loosening my grip on the garden.

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.

bronze nasturtium seeding

This bronze nasturtium seeding showed up in the garden one year. (c) Lorene Edwards Forkner

Of course, subsequent generations have a mind of their own — don’t they always. These days plenty of straight Tropaeolum majus flowers, glaringly orange, accompany the occasional wine colored bloom. Garden variety meets designer bloom with an impact greater than any I could orchestrate.

Nasturtium 'Purple Emperor"

Nasturtium ‘Purple Emperor”

After reading about less common varieties in Arthur Parkinson’s wonderful book, “The Flower Yard” I went on a search, no a quest for ‘Purple Emperor.’ Being the color nerd that I am, I couldn’t resist the promise of greyed mauve blooms. Then again, one year my garden served up a plant with delicious copper bronze blossoms — I saved seeds but can only hope the blooms come true.

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. The years when the little black, sesame-seeded pests proliferate I simply tear out the entire mess and await the next wave to raise its colorful head. 

In strong summer sun ‘Purple Emperor’ fades to a lovely greyed mauve.

Nasturtium seed sources:
Renee’s Garden
Eden Brothers
Select Seeds