Nasturtiums love my little hoophouse, and I love growing them in there.

Last year I grew them up the inside east and west walls of the hoophouse, where they got some afternoon shade, with tomatoes, bell peppers, Swiss chard and melons keeping them company in the sunnier parts of the 150-square-foot structure. I’ve never seen such happy, productive nasturtiums – nor have I ever noticed so much their rich, sweet fragrance. Inside the hoophouse, even with the door and window open, their scent filled the air and just made me want to spend all day in the heady warm atmosphere.

The plants even set seed in there, and one of their babies survived my weeding and came up on its own this year, in late April – now joined by the three other plants I started indoors from seed in early April and transplanted in mid-May.

Also, taking advantage of a crosspiece of wood in the hoophouse, I’ve hung a pot containing a few watercress plants and a nasturtium in the center of the house. Like stalagmites and stalactites, nasturtiums will be growing up and down.

The nasturtiums, by the way, are “Tall Climbing Mix,” a trailing (or climbing, given support) cultivar of Tropaeolum majus, while the watercress plants are Nasturtium officinale. Although they both have a similar peppery taste and similar names, they are not closely related.

All those nasturtiums come in handy when you want to dress up a salad, potato salad or sandwich. You can chop nasturtium flowers into little pieces to color a salad, or to mix with flavored cream cheese. Renee’s Garden (at suggests decorating the tops of open-face cream cheese sandwiches with bits of flowers – from nasturtiums, chives, borage, calendula, bean or herbs (none of which should have been treated with pesticides). To make the herbed cream cheese, says Renee’s, blend 8 ounces of room-temperature cream cheese with 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup finely chopped chives or scallions. Then stir into this mixture one large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped. Spread the cream cheese mixture on triangles of bread or crackers and top them with edible flower petals. (I like to cut these into small pieces, for those who don’t care to eat whole blossoms.)

Renee’s also suggests making a flavored vinegar with nasturtium flowers by steeping about 18 rinsed and air-dried flowers in 1 1/2 cups of mild rice wine vinegar or mild cider vinegar, heated to just below the boiling point, in a glass jar for a couple of weeks, then straining out the flowers.

I like to eat nasturtium leaves in sandwiches, for their slight peppery taste – much like that of their pot companion, watercress. Mixing lettuce, nasturtium and watercress leaves in a sandwich is a pleasant, homegrown treat. You can also add chopped nasturtium leaves to pasta or egg salad; make a vinegar with the unripe seed pods (using them like capers); or add the flowers to stir-fries.

If none of those recipes appeals to you, grow nasturtiums just for their intoxicating fragrance – and for happy hummingbirds.