Growing nasturtiums is a joy, and perfect for encouraging youngsters’ interest in gardening and nature. Like sunflowers, the chunky seeds are easy to plant, with stunning results – bright orange flowers and pleasingly round, peppery-tasting leaves.
And nasturtiums have a superpower. If you grow them, you’ll probably grow butterflies too. White-winged beauties flock to them to lay their eggs. Their caterpillars thrive on the leaves, and the nasturtiums don’t seem to mind. They just keep growing.
Here’s the treasure I found tucked under a leaf a few days ago – a clutch of golden eggs, with my giant thumb showing just how tiny they are.
With a magnifying glass, you can see they’re sculpted like miniature works of art. The yolk-yellow colour doesn’t last long – a day later, they’re black at the top.
Soon those black tops turn out to be heads – shiny and over-sized on bodies like threads. The hatchlings chew their way to freedom and then devour the delicate shells left behind. Their eggshells are their first meal – nothing goes to waste in nature.
A day later, the young caterpillars are growing fast, their bodies already catching up with their huge heads. The nasturtium leaves have holes in them, but the very hungry caterpillars haven’t spread out to enjoy their banquet. They cluster together like sleeping puppies. I expect they’ll get more adventurous as they grow.
Eric Carle’s classic, tactile book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is a wonderful way to introduce toddlers to the idea of metamorphosis – but the hero has a very funny diet. Nasturtiums are a much better bet, if you want to fill your garden with butterflies.