Nasturtiums? Are you joking?

Tiffany Daneff / 10 September 2014

Saga's gardening editor, Tiffany Daneff, wages war on her nasturtiums and the slugs and caterpillars that reside therein.

I love nasturtiums.

I love them for their smell, for their brilliantly coloured leaves and flowers, which are so good in salads, and for the peppery blast of the caper-like berries.

Mostly, though, I love them because they bring back memories of a holiday many, many years ago of which I remember very little except for the empty swimming pool, which we children examined daily for frogs and the nasturtiums that grew around its perimeter.  Every morning we discovered, cradled inside the round leaves, a single fat dew pearl which to us, seemed quite magical.  Sometimes we’d also find caterpillars, which we treated as pets often making nice jam jar homes.

That was then.  

Yesterday, I’m afraid to say, I tore out armfuls of those fleshy nasturtium stems from the veg garden and chucked them on the compost even though a few were still flowering.  It hurt to be so wasteful but it was for the best.

The trouble was twofold

First, the plants were doing so well they were swamping the squash, cucumber and courgettes.  This was stopping the sunlight reaching the fruits. It was also providing a nice hiding place for heaven-knows-how-many slugs, which were having a fine old time reducing my cucurbits to pulp.

Big problem number two

You have to understand that I was umbilically tied to those nasturtiums having grown them from seed.  Back in July I was justly crowing over my five glorious healthy clumps which I had planted in a corner of the veg garden so that they would climb along the back of the squash bed and up the hazel trellis.  All five could not have been happier.

Returning from holiday two weeks later I was greeted by devastation. And the vandals had the gall to be still there at the scene of the crime.  They were hanging out, enjoying the sun in their hundreds, maybe thousands: pretty greeny-yellowy cabbage white caterpillars. The younger ones are less attractive, more greyish black and, the more I looked the more horrified I became.  This was a massive infestation made all the worse by the fact that the plants had been growing at a gallop.  

Instead of a trellis gorgeously clothed in vibrant green and orange I now had a hideous knot of bare stems.  In over half the growth every single leaf had been stripped, every flower consumed.  Worse still, the wretches, not content with devouring my nasturtiums, had colonised the kale.  Where once there had been pristine inky foliage just waiting to be sweated with garlic and a splash of olive oil, was an ugly tracery of unappetising holes.  And, of course, not only was it was far too late to remedy matters but the damage grew exponentially over the next days and weeks.  

I waited, hoping the caterpillar season might abate and the plants recover. No such luck. I waited until I could bear it no longer and then I ripped the naked nasturtiums out.  It was heartbreaking.  And a lesson learned.

Next year I would really like to grow nasturtiums but dare I? Not unless I’ve got some bug spray handy. And then, what about all the butterflies?

It’s a tough one.


Tiffany Daneff is also the editor of the award-winning intoGardens app - the world's first magazine app for gardens. Visit the appstore to download a free sample or go to the website for more information. Gardening has never looked better or been more exciting. Visit for more info. 

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