Few flowers capture the carefee feeling of a cottage garden better than nasturtiums, whether they're climbing a wire fence, spilling from a window box, or tumbling over rocks. These easy-to-grow plants fall into in two main groups. Mounding types are bushy; they grow to 15 in. tall and stay put. Climbing types trail over the ground or use coiling leafstalks to climb as high as 6 ft. Both sport distinctive, long- stemmed, rounded leaves with prominent veins and a fresh bright green color. Broad, showy blossoms (to 212 in. across) have a pleasant fragrance and come in many colors, including orange, yellow, maroon, red, and creamy white; you can get mixed or single colors in seed packs. Both single- and double-flowered forms are available. Young leaves, flowers, and unripe seedpods add a peppery flavor to salads.
Popular selections include Alaska series (mounding type with variegated leaves speckled in cream and flowers in yellow, coral, or dark red); 'Empress of India' (mounding, with blue-green leaves and dark scarlet blossoms); 'Moonlight' (climbing, with pale yellow blooms); Out of Africa series (climbing, with cream-variegated leaves and red, yellow, peach, or cream flowers); 'Red Wonder' (mounding, with dark red flowers and olive-green leaves); 'Vesuvius' (mounding, with blue-green leaves and salmon blooms); and Whirlybird Mix (mounding, with yellow, orange, rose, and red blooms).
Nasturtiums need well-drained, preferably sandy soil. They give out in hot weather, so grow them as a cool-season annual in a hanging basket or as a flowering ground cover. To speed germination, soak the large seeds in water overnight before planting. In the Upper, Middle, and Lower South, plant immediately after the last spring frost for spring and early summer flowers. In the Coastal and Tropical South, sow in fall for autumn and winter blooms. Fertilize sparingly or you'll get all leaves and no flowers.