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Nasturtium peaking through the palings...

If you have nasturtiums in your garden, you will know what I mean when I say they are a plant requiring a relationship with their gardener.

I am a great fan of the nasturtium, but let’s just say they regularly test the friendship. They are a sort of teenage plant – lots of life, energy and beauty, but unsure of their boundaries. Or perhaps more accurately, uninterested in their boundaries.

It’s my fault, I know. I planted them in the first place. Just like I had babies in the first place, before I had teenagers. I wanted them (the nasturtiums that is) to fill empty corners with their brightness, to ramble eagerly and a little carelessly over edges and up bare walls, to spread, inhibition-free, under the canopy of fruit trees. They have done all that I wanted. But when my back is turned, they can’t resist a bit of creativity. As with teenagers, my back is turned too often.

On the move...

The garden shed for example. The gap under the door is a bit big. The long-armed, sun-loving nasturtiums like to explore (like teenagers, I hear you think). In under the door they slide, feel their way in the dark, careless now of the sun-loving label, and make their stealthy way up the bench to check out all the tools that need putting away. Higher and higher they reach, somehow finding support, somehow living on darkness, though they grow pale and dull in there, like teenagers on too much night-life. When finally found out, they look repentantly sick.

There is another patch by the veggie bed. As an organic gardener and nature conservationist I believe in having a ‘living mulch’, maximising the habitat, protecting the soil, growing biomass etc – I’m sure you know the reasons. But as with teenagers, so with living mulch/nasturtium. The relationship must be interactive to achieve best results. Neglect means loss of influence (otherwise known as control), blurred boundaries, the need for a firm hand at a later date. Recovering the veggie garden from the enthusiasm of nasturtiums is more an act of archaeology than gardening.

Perhaps under the fruit trees is the best place for our teenage nasturtiums. They can burst out zealously in all directions, lounge around, be a living mulch par excellence, attract the buzzing bees to their abundant nectar and be unceremoniously clipped by the passing blades of the buzzing lawnmower every so often. I can pick their flowers for salads, their leaves for chopping onto scrambled eggs and pull their soft stems back from the tree trunk as I pass.

Nasturtiums again... taking over....

It is a relationship I know I will never perfect but will continue to enjoy and indulge. There are so many charming things about this cheerful, easy-going plant. I couldn’t bear to grow them in a straitjacket. Better to let them take their own form, find their own way as you keep half a loving eye on them and administer occasional discipline. Just like… teenagers.

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