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, a family of flowering plants that include the ones we call decorative or ornamental.
Cantine variety of ornamental gourds
A whole lot smaller than ordinary gourds, ornamental gourds are known for their curious forms. These include bottle, kettle, pear, crown of thorns, egg and the popular cantine that looks like a miniature pumpkin. The unusual shapes result from the gourds’ tendency to cross-pollinate with each other as well as with larger 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 is to first assemble some seasonal items that will add color and interest to your ornamental gourds. If you’re considering a dry arrangement, leaves, twigs, nuts and feathers act as great accents. Try pheasant feathers, curly willow branches, walnuts or pinecones.
Curly willow branches at amazon.com
Walnuts’ large size make them the perfect accompaniment to gourds
Or, you can carve out your gourds to make mini vases for flowers, berries or vines. Try hypericum berries, orange bittersweet, purple, red or orange dahlias or yellow lilies.
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
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
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