Growing gourds

Grow your own versions of these multipurpose decorative gems.
gardening, gardening tips, garden, gourds

Quite a few years ago, in the early 1990s, I became fascinated with gourds. It was during my dried-flowers period when I lived in a woodsy cottage in Dunedin and had tortured hydrangeas and statice blooms hung upside down from the kitchen rafters. There they shed bits of dead leaf into the food, obviating the need for dried herbs. I’m not sure how I even knew about gourds, but I must have seen some in an American country-life magazine and decided they were a must-have.

Fortunately for me, in those days you could buy them, stick them in an expensive, wooden bowl (or a cheap cane basket) and voilà – country chic. I’ve not seen any for sale around our area recently, so I’m going to have to grow some. Evidently, the gourd was the first plant ever propagated from seed by people in New Zealand soils. The particular variety was the bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria. So when people ask you why you’re growing gourds, you’ll have something intelligent and worthwhile to say.

I won’t be planting one of those because I want brightly coloured, highly textured, twisted, warty, ridged, weirdly shaped gourds to display in the aforementioned wooden bowl. There are various places you can buy seeds of all different kinds and the evidence suggests they are all easy to grow. Since they’re closely related to pumpkins, it’s hard to imagine they would be in any way resistant. If it’s still frosty at your place plant the seeds in little pots, but if you’re in a warmer region, get them straight into the garden about a metre apart.

Keep your gourds in line with a fence or trellis

Also in common with pumpkins (and our dog), they’ll head off towards the neighbours’ unless you train them, so get a fence or a trellis in place for them to grow up. Later you’ll have to provide some sort of sling to support the fruit – old F-cup bras have been suggested. Another option is to put the early fruit into a small box or container while it’s still growing. Apparently it will then grow into the shape of the container. Your gourds will be a fair old time growing. They need a very long, warm growing season.

About four weeks before harvest, cut off their water supply and let them dehydrate. As with pumpkins, cut them with about 5cm of stalk attached and handle them very carefully at this stage. Wipe any soil and moisture off them and store them in a cool, airy place for about three months to dry. Give them some personal space. They don’t like to be touching each other and it’s important for the air to circulate around each one. If any start to show signs of surface mould, wipe it off with a cloth soaked in bleach. The presence of mould is actually a good thing, since it indicates that moisture is escaping through the skin.

During the drying, the shell hardens and the surface colour of the gourd sets. For the final drying, wipe gourds with household disinfectant. Spread them on newspapers in a warm, dark, dry place for three to four weeks. If you’ve grown plain gourds and you want to tart them up, you can create designs on the surface of the gourd. Draw them on with pencil and cut the design in with a sharp carving tool, or burn into the surface with an electric carver or needle. Wax them afterwards.

These long-hanging gourds were commonly used for water storage

The striped, textured, highly coloured, warty varieties can be left in their natural state or given a coat of wax or shellac for a hard, glossy finish. Then all they need is to go in a bowl with a few seed pods and some dried flowers for the Country Life look.

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