Ten Great Ideas For Decorating With Gourds

If you’re like me, every October, when those big boxes of ornamental gourds land at the grocery store, your mind whirls with possibilities. The cute little shapes seem to embody the essence of fall. The problem is that once you get them home, the gourds are a bit lacking somehow. Sure, they look OK on their own in a bowl, but if you really want to get creative, design-wise, you’ll need to add some key seasonal ingredients.

Where did gourds come from, anyway?

Hard-shelled gourds have been around for a very long time. Archeological specimens indicate the bottle gourd (pictured below) was being grown as a domesticated plant in the Americas as far back as 10,000 years ago. It’s still a mystery as to how the gourds got to the New World from their native Africa. But a recent study indicates they may have floated here on ocean currents.

Bottle gourds growing in a garden

Today in the United States, there are three types of gourds that are typically grown: Lagenarias, or hard shells, that are mainly used in crafts; Luffas (also spelled loofah), most commonly used as sponges and Cucurbitas, the ones we call decorative or ornamental.

Cantine variety of ornamental gourds

Ornamental gourds are a whole lot smaller than ordinary gourds. Although some people eat them, they are more commonly known for their curious forms. These include such catchy names as bottle, kettle, pear, crown of thorns, egg and the popular cantine (those little pumpkin-shaped ones.) The unusual shapes are due to the little gourds’ tendency to cross-pollinate with each other as well as with pumpkins and squash. This allows for an endless supply of design possibilities.

 

Designing with ornamental gourds: Key elements

A good plan of action before getting started on your design is to first assemble some seasonal items that will add color and interest to your arrangement. If you’re considering a dry arrangement, leaves, twigs, nuts and feathers act as great accents to gourds. Try pheasant feathers, curly willow branches, walnuts or pinecones.

Pheasant feathers

Curly willow branches at amazon.com

Pinecones add texture

Walnuts’ large size make them the perfect accompaniment to gourds

Or, you can carve out your gourds to make room for flowers, berries or vines. Try hypericum berries, orange bittersweet, purple, red or orange dahlias or yellow lilies.

Hypericum berries

Orange bittersweet

Assorted dahlias

Yellow lilies provide good color contrast

You can even add votive candles.

 

Putting it all together

Ready to get started? Here are some great sources of inspiration incorporating many of the items listed above. Click on the links for more detailed information about each idea.

1. Mini “pumpkin” and gourd wreath, Southern Living

Helen Norman for Southern Living

2. White gourds in dough bowl with cabbage and pine cones

3. Green gourd vase with red flower

4. Hollowed out gourds with votive candles

5. Purple and orange dahlias with bittersweet berries and leaves in acorn-shaped gourd vases

6. Orange and yellow gourds in a brown rustic basket

7. Minimalist sculpture with orange zinnias, flax leaf and feathery grass

8. Simply elegant: orange gourds in tall, thin vases with single branches of wild ivy

thrifttown.com

thrifttown.com

9. White gourd vase with pink gerbera daisies, magnolia leaves, mini green cantine gourds, ornamental cabbage and evergreen sprig

10. Stacked gourds in iron trellis with potted yellow mums

Happy designing!

 

 

Why Leaves Change Color and Other Fun Fall Facts

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

I like to think of fall from an Alice In Wonderland perspective; that is, autumn is a time when we shrink in proportion to our gardens while the leaves ‘bloom’ above us.  And each year, nature unveils new surprises, dazzling us with colors and combinations so vivid and daring as to leave little doubt as to her ability to create designs far superior to our own.

While it’s generally believed that cold weather causes a tree’s leaves to change color, the process is in reality a bit more complex. Weather can affect the intensity and duration of color, but the color itself is a part of each tree’s biology. And just like flowers in a garden, every tree has its own colors and ‘bloom’ period that occur at different times during the fall season.

autumn-landscape

Nature’s garden

Why do leaves change color?

Leaves change color due to the process of photosynthesis. During the growing season, leaves act as food factories for the plant, capturing sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar. A chemical called chlorophyll, which absorbs light energy, is responsible for making this happen. It is also the reason why most leaves are green.

In fall, as temperatures start to cool and the days grow shorter, leaves stop their food making process. As the chlorophyll naturally breaks down, the green color disappears from the leaf surface.  Yellow and orange, which until now have been masked by the green, start to become visible.

sassafras

Orange-yellow sassafras leaves on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Some trees like maples, sourwoods and sweet gums, however, start making brand new pigments as their chlorophyll breaks down. These trees produce brilliant shades of bright red, scarlet and purple. Often you’ll see these colors mixed in with the leaves’ underlying orange and yellow pigments, making for a dazzling show.

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Maple tree in fall

As the season progresses and the temperatures drop further, the cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem weaken and the leaf starts to fall from the tree. The additional pigments begin to break down, the leaf dries up, and only a brown color remains. Some plants, like oaks, retain their brown foliage for a good part of the winter.

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Sycamore leaves turn shades of brown

Weather has a big effect on color

Weather conditions can affect the leaves’ color and duration and are the reason why each year the landscape looks slightly different. These conditions include temperature, amount of sunlight and available water supply.

Lots of sunlight combined with low temperatures, for instance, produces brighter reds but shortens their duration. An early frost, however, spells the end of the show. And drought stress during the summer can result in early dropping of leaves before they have a chance to form any color at all.

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Sugar maple leaf in process of changing color

Surprisingly, a combination of rain and overcast days tend to increase color intensity.

yellow-orange-leaf

 

The best and brightest show, however, usually follows a growing season with lots of rain followed by a dry spell.

sugar-maple-image

 

Take Time, Slow Down and Smell the Leaves

There’s no better time than autumn to get outside and smell the leaves. The cooler temperatures and colorful show offer a great opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. With its unmistakable earthy aroma, fall offers us a chance to renew our spirits and to recharge.

I take pleasure in all the leafy details of the season: the delicate remains of the tooth-edged brown oak, the fiery red maple formed like a palm and the heart-shaped yellow linden. Held aloft on the fragrant air, these simple shapes flutter down from bare branches to form crazy quilts on the still-warm soil. As I walk, a crisp, crackling sound rises from beneath my feet.  I savor the heady aromas; fragrant cinnamon, orange spice and the powerful scent of dry leaves roasting in the autumn sun.

What is it about decaying leaves that summons up our deepest memories? How can one whiff of a rotting oak stir our reflection, catapulting us back into the giant leaf piles of our youth?

My view is that the answer lies not only in fall’s foliage, but also in something less tangible – its smell. More inscrutable than seeing or hearing, the experience of smelling opens pathways to a deep-seated awareness that lies dormant in us all. Untouched by human language, this awareness, once awakened, recalls the child we once were and who still exists inside us.

Floating upward through the annals of time, the distinctive smell of autumn leaves reconnects us to this child, reminding us of our own particular story, our unique pathway through life and our timeless link to the natural world.