I’ve come to realize that as we take on new challenges in life, we leave behind rituals and traditions that previously occupied our time. For me, one of these forgotten rituals is holiday decorating.
There was a time, namely when my kids were young and still lived at home, when decorating for each and every holiday was a tradition set in stone. And one of my favorite times of the year to decorate was fall.
Whether I was supervising my children’s artistic developement fostered by carving jack-o-lanterns, or we were artfully displaying gourds around the house, our autumn decorations got their start in the garden. Growing gourds and pumpkins is a fun, family activity that helped instill the love of gardening in my children.
Growing Fun-Shaped Gourds
One of the best aspects of growing gourds is there are so many types to choose from. And although gourds are not generally used for food as they tend to be bitter and stringy, they have a variety of other uses. A decorating favorite is making “ugly gourds” by drying and decorating them to resemble witches, ghosts or black cats. Here are a few types of gourds which I have grown:
- Warty gourds – Certainly one of the ugliest gourds, my warties were typically yellow, softball-sized gourds covered with wart-like bumps. In addition to displaying them in baskets and around the base of corn stalks, these fun-shaped gourds are perfect for painting as witches, frogs or birds.
- Luffa sponges – While the fruit from these types of gourds are generally not ugly, the inner-lying sponge is a bit weird-looking. To make sponges from this gourd, first allow it to reach full maturity on the vine. After harvesting, peel the tough skin and use the natural holes to remove the seeds. Thoroughly rinse the inner fiberous material, let dry and cut to length.
- Birdhouse gourds – These large, fun-shaped gourds can be dried and turned into a number of crafts including, of course, birdhouses. Taking inspiration from the blotchy markings on a 16 inch birdhouse gourd I grew years ago, I used a woodburning tool to create a leopard. Preserved with clear craft sealant, this natural decoration has lasted for many years.
- Spoon gourds – One of the adventures of growing gourds in the garden is discovering what types of gourds you get from a package of mixed gourd seeds. Bicolored spoon gourds seemed to be a staple. These green and yellow gourds always appeared to be half-ripe, but add a few warts on the surface and spoon gourds can be downright weird-looking.
- Giant pumpkins – Although pumpkins are generally considered a squash, the mammoth varieties have a hard skin and are more often grown as decorations than for eating. For those reasons, I’m squeezing giant pumpkins in the gourd category. And yes, carving a giant pumpkin into a Jack-o-lantern is something your children will remember forever. I highly recommend trying this family activity as least once.
In addition to the types of gourds I’ve grown, there are a few more ugly gourds worth mentioning. These include snake gourds, caveman’s club gourd, and pimply pumpkins. But I’m holding off growing these beauties until I have young grandchildren with whom I can share this gardening adventure.