ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
Ornamental gourds come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes; texture also varies as some are warted while others are smooth.
Our house and front entrance are ready for Thanksgiving and I think many homes in our community are also decorated for this special day because I had a tremendous crop of decorative gourds and ornamental pumpkins this year which I use to make what I call "Thanksgiving baskets". I sell these baskets as fund raisers for our local Horticultural Society and also for our Heritage Village Museum.
“Thanksgiving baskets”, some with bows, some in handled baskets, some with a base of burlap or cloth, are all unique. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A large bushel basket of gourds combines nicely with an autumn wall hanging to add a welcoming touch to the front entrance. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
It’s nice to have a basket of these uniquely shaped vegetables on the table or sideboard to create a Thanksgiving mood but the good thing is that they can be retained for a month or so as they also tie into the next upcoming holiday, Halloween. Of course, larger pumpkins are usually added to outdoor displays for Halloween.
Ornamental gourds and mini-pumpkins are easy to grow if their three basic requirements are met: lots of sun; lots of water; and lots of space! Luckily I can provide all three on my brother-in-law’s farm and this year I think my "gourd patch" was larger than it has ever been.
Although I do plant seeds, particularly of the mini-pumpkins, I sometimes also plant whole gourds kept over from the previous year. They are often dried out, or even mouldy and quite ugly, but the seeds always seem to be viable I just drop a gourd into a shallow hole, give it a couple of chops with the shovel to break it up, and cover it.
Of course a huge clump of seedlings emerges from each gourd but I simply pull them all out, leaving just two or three per hill (gourd). I install a tall stake beside each hill so that I know where the main stems are located once the vines start rambling; this enables me to carry a pail of water to each hill instead of trying to water the whole patch, which would be a tremendous waste of water.
The gourds don’t always come true from the seeds in the gourds as many are hybrids. Therefore, I never know what shapes and sizes I will get, but I do get lots of surprises!
In early September, just before our Hort. Society’s fall produce sale, I hope I see some mature gourds they will be hard to the touch and I pick them. This can be a bit difficult as it requires making my way into the sprawling vines without unduly damaging them.
Generally, I like to leave most of the gourds in place until frost cuts the vines down and then I can go into the patch unimpeded by the fear that I will damage them. The gourds are easier to see after the vines are frozen.
I cut the gourds off the vines with a sharp knife as I like them to have stems. If the gourds are just pulled off the vines many will break off right where the stem attaches to the gourd.
I am fortunate that many folks in my community know about this project and during the year give me baskets to use. I also purchase many from our local thrift store for mere pennies.
I also collect bits of raffia, colourful fall-themed ribbon, and potpourri that I add to some of the baskets. While garage saling this year I was lucky to find a couple of sets of large napkins and cloth place mats in lovely fall colours I like to put a piece of fabric (I often use burlap) in the bottom of the basket and have it visible around the edge of the basket.
To make up a basket I firstly wipe any dirt off the gourds and trim the stems if needed. Often I begin with a larger more non-descript gourd or two in the bottom of the basket they will be barely visible and really are just used to fill the space.
Then a nice variety of gourds and mini-pumpkins is arranged in the basket to create a pleasing effect. I sometimes add bits of raffia or potpourri to fill in gaps and to add interest, and perhaps a colourful bow is added to the side of the basket or on the handle if it is a handled basket.
Some of the baskets are quite large and are useful for display on sideboards or even on the floor; others are smaller and used to grace the dining table. I also have requests for quite small baskets with just a few gourds in them for those folks who live in smaller spaces.
I use larger gourds and pumpkins to create outdoor displays for our home, positioning them on the deck beside the front door or at the base of the deck stairs to greet visitors as they arrive. I throw a blanket over these displays on cold nights to protect them from frost.
Growing and using ornamental gourds and mini-pumpkins to create attractive autumn displays is an interesting project. If you didn’t grow your own, purchase a few of these unique vegetables at your local market and create a Thanksgiving display for your house. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2012