How to grow Tropaeolum speciosum the flame flower

Tropaeolum we recognise as T.majus which is the common annual Nasturtium illustrated in the central image. There is also a lesser known, and lovely perennial variety  called T. speciosum whose major fault in the plant world is having an unpronounceable name, but is a great climber.

Its common name is  Flame flower because of the bold swathes of red comprising many tiny scarlet flowers. It is a perennial unlike its relative, the Nasturtium, which is a colourful annual.

Flame flower looks at its best grown through evergreens where the contrast between the strong green and red looks most effective. If grown in the right place and conditions, it can be vigorous, but it is a notoriously tricky climber to get established.

Not for nothing is it also known as the "Scottish Flame Flower" because, although tricky to grow, it sometimes seems to be easier to establish in Scotland. Ideal conditions are acidic soil, and sun, but not too hot, which may be why it grows well in Scotland.  It is hardy down to around -12C as H5 under the RHS Frost hardy classification.

Tropaeolum will grow best with its roots shady in hummus rich soil. I have never pruned my plant because it dies back each winter and although it returns each year, it doesn't get out of hand. In areas where Tropaeolum gets established and vigorous, it can be pruned back in early spring before it starts growing in earnest. T.speciosum has many flowers of a strong, intense red which flower for several weeks in midsummer.

Tropaeolum is similar to the Clematis which also likes its roots in the shade and its top in sun. In the right conditions, it is said to be rampant and so it comes with a gardening warning. That said, it has never been anywhere near rampant in my garden and I am happy to plant and grow it, compared to, say Fallopia common names Russian Vine and Mile a Minute plant which I find to be rampant in any garden conditions, although pretty. 

Interestingly, given that the Tropealum is happiest in cooler conditions, during the long hot summer of 2018 the one in my garden barely flowered at all I think unhappy with the dry hot conditions produced that summer.

If Tropealum is not the climbing plant for your garden, there is information and growing conditions for many other climbing plants.

updated 16.02.2022