Friday, May 08, 2009

To Ban or Not To Ban

When you first start gardening you try it all, anything you think might grow in your humble garden, you pick up off the seed rack. Sunflowers are easy enough. “I absolutely must have seven or eight varieties, to start,” you muse. Zinnias – now there’s a favorite of mine, and they are so easy. Zinnias I like because they come in almost every color of the rainbow. There’s even a lovely one called Green Envy, Elegans in Latin, how could you turn your back on that? (More on back turning later.) The Envy isn’t actually green per se, but rather a pale, yellowy-green…spring green – if you will, in Crayola terms.

But early on I was attracted to, for a reason that escapes me now, Nasturtiums. They’ve been around for centuries, so I’ve heard, and once they are in your garden, they magically reseed themselves and come back year, after year, after year.

“If you are looking for a plant for your garden that will spread like wildfire, produce decorative foliage, have an ocean of brightly-colored blossoms, and be tasty to boot, there is only one that will fit the bill: Nasturtiums.”

Thus writes Linda Gilbert a Bay Area freelance journalist, cooking class instructor, and co-owner of the Sonoma catering company, Broadway Catering and Events.

“Nasturtiums are a gardener's dream,” Linda expounds.

“They are virtually carefree once established. Snails don't seem to be interested in them. They will even self seed and come back the next year in mild climate.”

Now in the beginning of your gardening career, a flower with that much staying power is miraculous to you. “It actually plants itself?” you marvel. You’re standing in the garden the following spring pounding your chest like Tom Hanks in Cast Away: “I. Have. Made. Flowers,” you bellow aloud to no one in particular (since you haven’t a gardening equivalent to Wilson... yet).

And they do double duty…you can even eat them.

“Their sweet, peppery taste (both in the leaves and in the flowers) adds to the enjoyment,” Linda continues.

“Take advantage of this spicy flavor as well as the decorative color. Use both leaves and blossoms in salads. Try adding them to spinach salads for a dramatic effect. Nasturtium's spiciness is also a winning addition to cheese spreads. Both the leaves and the blossoms look and taste great in tea sandwiches. For a stunning look, pair orange nasturtium blossoms with violets on open-faced cucumber sandwiches on white bread.”

And on and on. Year, after year, after year. Thanks Linda, but I think I’ll pass.

The flowers are pretty enough. And I do still revel in wonderment when they return year and again without effort on my part. But here’s the thing: All those years ago, I grabbed a pack labeled “Jewel Mix.” Now these are listed as a “customer favorite” and received a “5 out of 5 average customer rating,” on Burpee’s website.

What’s not to like, you’re asking yourself, right? This is the rub…I’m not crazy about, okay I’ll just say it – I hate their colors. There I said it. Petty? All flowers are beautiful just like all babies are cute you’re thinking, right?

So I am left wondering, is it okay to prohibit, say all, orange flowers from your garden, or all yellow flowers? In the beginning you’re so happy, thrilled and overjoyed by the fact that you have made flowers that the thought of removing them once they have established themselves is illogical, absurd, ridiculous even.

Now that I’ve been through the garden gate a few hundred times or so, I have read my share of gardening books, magazines and blogs to have heard more than once, that one can do whatever one pleases in their own garden. As in most aspects of life these days, anything goes. Wear white after Labor Day? Once, unthinkable. Sip white wine with filet mignon? Years ago, it simply was not done. Leave the house without lipstick? Previously, unconscionable. Now, all matters of personal preference.

Thanks to modern science, Nasturtiums do come in softer palettes these days. One of my favorite seed companies, Renee’s Garden, offers a custard-colored “Vanilla Berry” or the orange-sherbet-and-vanilla-hued “Creamsicle” is somewhat pleasing. But these I have found pale not only in color but hardiness as well compared to their heirloom ancestors, including “Jewel Mix.” They didn’t take well in my garden and those that did grow didn’t hang around long let alone return spontaneously the following season.

As a novice gardener my neighbor told me she had such a distaste for it, she simply never included orange in her borders and beds. I stood there, speechless. I was reminded of when handed my tightly-swaddled newborn son for the first time, I was so awestruck I never, until hours later, thought to unwrap him and adoringly examine him from head-to-toe. What I was thinking in both instances: I can do that?

The conundrum remains though for me. How awful would I be if I ripped out all those orange and worse, goldenrod, Nasturtiums and started over with some soft pink… maybe... well anything else really?

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