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Originally published Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 2:48 PM

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How can nasturtiums be even better? As vines

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris introduces us to the nasturtium vine and warns about the weed called purslane, which is happy growing just about everywhere and loves to foil your efforts to kill it.


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Harvest Day Celebration and Children’s Fair: 10 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Sept. 6. Taste tomatoes, guess potato poundage, plant a sedum shoe, and more. Bring garden produce or nonperishable food to benefit Hopelink, or a cash donation to benefit the Master Gardener Foundation of King County. Bellevue Urban Demonstration Garden, 15500 S.E. 16th St, Bellevue. (mgfkc.org).

Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6. A lively hands-on community festival with workshops, cooking demonstrations, music and activities for all ages. Free, donations accepted. 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle; (seattletilth.org).

Heronswood Open Garden & Plant Sale: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6. Tour the garden, shop favorite nurseries, and learn gardening experts. Sale and lectures are free; $10 donation to tour the gardens. (heronswood.com).

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In the Garden

Most of us are familiar with garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). The colorful, spurred flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds, and they make great spillers in container designs.

Fewer people, however, are aware of the interesting climbing nasturtium vines. One of the interesting varieties is named after the island it hails from. Canary vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum) sports blue-green, deeply lobed leaves that contrast beautifully with its bizzarely fringed, canary-yellow flowers, produced in abundance all summer long.

Hardy to about 30 degrees, it rarely survives our winters, but it reseeds reliably. Clinging tendrils allow it to climb any trellis or shrub. From Chile comes the wildly beautiful flame nasturtium (T. speciosum). This dainty-looking herbaceous perennial vine features fiery-red spurred flowers that drive hummingbirds flaming mad with desire.

The vine dies back in winter but returns each spring to scramble over fences, plants and anything else it can get a grip on. Finally, you can have your nasturtium vine and eat it, too. In the Andes, the tubers of T. tuberosum are grown as food and cooked like potatoes. The spicy flowers are delicious in salads. The standard T. tuberosum blooms in October and November with highly attractive orange and yellow spurred flowers, but the beautiful reddish-spurred, bright-orange flowers on the variety ‘Ken Aslet’ bloom from July through September.

If you plant one and it doesn’t bloom on schedule, deprive it of water. These plants prefer tough love, and usually all it takes is a bit of stress to encourage a great floral display for the rest of the season. Vines in the tuberosum clan can be somewhat tender, so to be safe, give them a cozy cover of mulch after the vine dies down in winter.

Nasturtium vines do best planted in rich, well-drained soil where the roots are shaded, but top growth can easily climb into sunshine. If you can’t find one at your local nursery next spring, check online.

Pesky purslane

If you’ve been battling a weed with fleshy, succulent leaves, which resembles a flat jade plant, the uninvited guest is purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This drought-tolerant annual weed loves open ground and a sunny location. It will grow in practically any kind of soil and is equally suited to thrive in the fertile, moist soil of a vegetable garden as in the arid, sandy conditions of a rock garden.

The key to controlling purslane is to pull it before its small yellow flowers produce seed. Seedlings germinate after being exposed to direct sunlight and within only three weeks begin dispersing seed of their own.

The seeds can stay viable for about 40 years in the soil, so once they go to seed, you’ve got a problem. When you weed purslane, pull it out of the soil and remove all plant parts from the garden. Any stems left on the soil surface will quickly reroot.

Never till purslane into the soil. Every plant part will root, and you’ll have gazillions more of them to deal with. After weeding, applying a layer of mulch can help prevent germination by preventing the sun from reaching the seed.

Finally, if you can’t beat it, eat it. Purslane is native to India and Iran, where it is considered a nutritious food crop. It has a crunchy texture and is said to be especially good with lamb and in lentil stew.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.



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