My friend Tomoko Miyashita has sent me pictures and some comments about the useof the cucurbit Momordica charantia (Bitter Gourd) in Japan, where it is often used, as she does (above), as a fast-growing sun-screen to shade homes from strong westerly sunshine. This year she has planted two cultivars, the traditional green-fruited form, and a new white version, along with the equally fast-growing plant Cardiospermum grandiflorum.
She writes of the Momordica: 'This is not delicious vegetable at all but I am quite happy with this natural curtain.' Although its bitterness is not to my, or her, taste, it is a surprisingly popular vegetable in Asian cuisine and is usually available from Asian shops in this country.
Seeds of Cardiospermum grandiflorum, Heartseed: the heart-shaped white mark on the seed gives both its English and scientific names, but it is clearly intended for turning into a Micky Mouse face, as Tomoko has done here. The fruits of Momordica charantia are in the immature stage at which they are eaten. When ripe they turn orange and split to reveal red seeds, at which stage they are very decorative, but it needs a hot summer to perform well.