THE NASTURTIUM has been on my mind lately, though it has been years since I grew any.
When you think of it, the nasturtium is vastly more complex, colorful, fragant than the zinnia, marigold, petunia, lantana, verbena, geranium and so on.
But somewhere along the line the nasturtium developed an image-call a dog mad and hang him-as a common flower unworthy of attention in gardens.
Now gardening may well be one of the world's important fantasies, but within that fantasy there can be some clear sight and relatively sane judgement, which leads us to my point:
The nasturtium is eminently worth growing.
The seeds alone justify planting it. That is, even if they did not sprout (and they sprout infallibly) it would be worth the effort, merely to sow them in neat little rows, one by one (for the seeds are relatively enormous). Few seeds are so agreeable to handle. Even the clumsiest child can sow them without mishap.
And when they sprout, they grow quickly, the peltate leaves like small circular trays of soft blue green. Very like the leaves of a lotus, only smaller.
Now aphids are supposed to be a great problem in growing nasturtiums. Once or twice I have had infestations of aphids, dense on the growing tips and youngest leaves, but without resorting to any special poisons except water, I have got rid of them with no real trouble.
They like full sun, and require at least half-sun; no point planting them under great shade trees.
The scent is often compared with such fragrances as those of marigold or tansy - "nose-twisting" smells. I find them, on the contrary, very sweet with little or none of that nose-twisting marigold or chrysanthemum quality. They are much more like the smell of sweet peas, carnations, roses.
But such is the force of words that many gardeners can smell only what they have read; and if nasturtiums are supposed to be nose-twisters, then many gardeners will find themselves unable to notice the fine perfume.
Too much is made-another instance of the force of tradition-of the nasturtium's preference for poor soil. In poor soil, they simply do not grow very well, at least for me. I find they always do best in fairly rich soil in a well-run border, the sort of place inhabited by peonies, roses, Oriental pollies, irises and the like.
If the plant were tricky to grow, and if the seed could be acquired only by getting special import licenses and ordering from Vladivostok, we should be making great efforts.
Because the nasturtium seed is to be found on every seed rack, we ignore it; and because we ignore it, we soon come to think it worthless.
The world is so full of remarkable plants that nobody can grow more than a ten-thousandth of the dandy things that could be grown. I understand that all right. Still, I have the strong feeling that the nasturtium is neglected not because gardens are too crammed with meconopis, gentians and so on, but merely because nobody ever says anything nice about the nasturtium.
This should not be the case.
Some will say this is a good bit of space to waste on the nasturtium, giving no particular information about if apart from citing its fondness for sun and its good-natured behavior in the garden.
As if one were to write at some length on the subject of the radish, without bothering to discuss the merits of the black Spanish, the Chinese winter, the French globes, etc.
Sometimes I am overcome by a feeling that gardeners may benefit merely from being reminded of what they already know. Everyone loves the nasturtium, and then never thinks of it again.
I notice, to move along for a change, that seedlings of my Anemone blanda are variable. The sort everyone likes best is the medium-deep clear blue with just a hint of violet.
That is the kind I have always planted (from tubers in the fall) and it always interesting to see what happens when they sow themselves about.
There was one patch of seedlings several feet across that grew well for a year then died. Bubonic plague got them.Every one.
Another little patch has appeared, a few dozen plants, where I never planted any. More are blue but a few are almost white and one or two are pinkish.
You will see, if you keep your eye out, that when plants self-sow they may appear densely some distance from the original plants, with no stray seedlings in between.
You might think the seedlings would be densest in the immediate fringe of the parent colony, thinning out from there. But no, there may be quite a stretch without a single volunteer, then a fat patch. You always wonder why they hit on such a pattern.
The big forget-me-nots (Brunnera ) sometimes sow themselves about in vast quantity, each appearing in splendid isolation and very widely separated from any other.
I have some soldiers-and-sailors (Pulmonaria ) or lungworts. You may go 15 feet and . . . Ha! There is one I never planted but which just appeared. Then 30 feet in another direction, there is another.
This spring I notice a couple of clematis are feebly sprouting from beneath ground, though they "died" last year.
Often a clematis planted in March or April will send up a shoot two or three feet high then die utterly in July.
The gardener will think the wilt disease has got it, and go on to something else.
Many times, if the plant is left undisturbed, a dormant bud will sit there under the ground and sprout the following spring, and the plant may very well flourish thereafter.
A friend of mine had a clematis, 'Nelly Moser', that "died" and produced no leaves at all for two full years, then in the third year sprouted and now makes a fine plant.
That is unusual. I cannot think of another such case. Usually if more than one year goes by without signs of growing the plant is indeed dead.
But too often we pitch out plants that should be left strictly alone, to see if they will not burst out the following year. One of the leading clematis growers of England has observed that people are forever sending him back "dead" clematis that, if he plants them out, sprout beautifully the following spring.
Lilies, by the way, are susceptible to damage now, when their fleshy brittle cones appear above the soil. When they are four or five inches high they snap off when dogs sit on them or when the gardener goes exploring to see if the rose back on the fence is coming along.
There may be no sign of growth again from that bulb that year. But if let alone, often it will sprout the following spring as if nothing had happened.
And I am sure no gardener needs to be reminded that in addition to clematis and lilies, many plants that appear fatally damaged either by winter or by large feet, can make gallant comebacks from the root. How may figs, pomegranates, solanums, spurges have been ruthlessly destroyed by impatient gardeners who, seeing only dead wood, dig the thing up.
Patience, at least in gardens, can be rewarding.