Adorable female flower bid on the shark's fin melon

Welcome to Tendrils! The garden has been battered by torrential rain and a thunderstorm overnight and I haven’t been outside yet to assess any damage. Hopefully the Shark’s fin melon (Cucurbita ficifolia) will be fine* – it has just started to produce female flowers, and yesterday it even looked as though one of them had set fruit. It’s not surprising, the bees are loving the flowers (and those on the orpine and the wintergreen). The shark’s fin melon is a strange mixture of adorably cute (the new growth) and rampantly triffid-like. It has taken over one of the Sunset Strip garden and is currently trying to break into the main garden by climbing over the fence. It remains to be seen whether there’s time for it to ripen any fruits, but it’s having a good try!

Whilst we’re on the subject of vigorous plants, let’s give dandelions a closer look. We all know they’re good to eat, and great flowers for bees, but did you know that there are around 240 different dandelion species in the UK, and that you’re likely to find about 60 of them close to home?

If you find a very tall dandelion and think it could make it into the Guinness Book of Records, though, you’ll have to be very careful indeed. Bad taxonomy can kill world records, or – in other words – there are lots of species that look like dandelions, but aren’t.

Confusion between visually similar plants is understandable, but it’s harder to fathom how people could confuse three very different-looking species, and call them all bergamot. I knew about two of them; did you know there was a Bergamot pear?

Awkward Botany introduces us to a plant you must never eat in Poisonous Plants: Heartbreak Grass. Gelsemium elegans apparently has a history of being used in Chinese and Russian contract killings. It’s all a bit CSI….

And there’s exciting Science News about tomatoes that foil vampire attacks, although it’s only talking about how tomatoes manage to foil one species of the parasitic plant Dodder.

No plant is an island, Nature Plants reminds us – they are all embedded into complex ecosystems. Which makes it more puzzling that humans as a species suffer quite badly from Plant Blindness. But wait! It’s not all humans! And there is a cure! “Many indigenous groups, such as aboriginal Australian, native North American, and Maori cultural groups, for example, still have strong bonds with plants around them.”

One way to cure Western plant blindness may me to have more plants on TV. In America a native plant ended up on reality tv, which isn’t quite what I had in mind – but at least its plight it now more widely known.

Right! Enough botany and ethnobotany, let’s have some phytogastronomy! Mr Plant Geek has been sharing some thoughts on how to grow your own cocktails at home, a subject I tackled a little while ago for City Planter in Fruit Cocktails: the summer harvest shaken, not stirred. More recently, I invented a kick-ass rhubarb cocktail recipe that will be of no use to anyone in the northern hemisphere until next spring. Unless you’ve invested in Rhubarb ‘Livingstone’, the autumn-cropping variety, or ‘Poulton’s Pride’, a variety that has been bred to crop for 10 months of the year! Ryan and I were discussing the possibility of turning the Sunset Strip into a rhubarb farm next year; a couple of plants of each of these varieties should keep us regular fed all year!

I love spinach. I keep meaning to grow spinach. I have beetroot leaves. Perhaps that will be good enough for CityHippyFarmGirl’s Spinach and Fetta Bread, which looks delightful (although apparently wasn’t universally popular with the kids). Perhaps she needs to do some work on convincing them that eating healthily is rebellious; perhaps they’re not teenagers yet.

Mushrooms aren’t universally popular either (50:50 in this house), but they’re not plants either. Still, we’re open-minded here at Tendrils, and fungi aren’t excluded, so have a lovely article on 5 ways to start a mushroom garden. Again, depending on where you are in the world, you might have to wait until spring – but it’s food for thought if we have a wet weekend.

half price hanging basket blackberry plants

*I won’t keep you in suspense any longer – the garden, including the Shark’s fin melon is fine. Here’s my bouncing baby fruit 🙂

First fruit: Cucurbita fictifolia