Since Japanese beetles came into to our garden life, it has been almost impossible to keep my grape vine presentable in Le Potager garden, as the beetles skeletonize almost all leaves in the summer.
It looks terrible on the pergola in the middle of the garden, as the brown grape vine contrasts with the rest of garden, which looks so lush and green.
I decided to matchmake this sad grapevine with birdhouse gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) to cover up the destroyed leaves. It worked perfectly. The gourd climbed up on the grape vine happily and produced aromatic white flowers, which later became the humorously-shaped fruits, perfect for craft projects. Now I must think whether I should make bird houses or flasks.
You can grow birdhouse gourd very easily. Seeds can be directly sown into the fertile garden bed in late May — after the last frost date in your area — or start a few weeks earlier indoors, then transplant to your garden. The gourd vine likes a sunny site with well-drained fertile, moist soil. Once your seedling starts taking off, let it grow until the main vine can reach the structure where you would like your gourd to climb on. Then, prune it to develop the lateral branches to encourage it to produce more female flowers.
The gourds produce both male and female white flowers on the same vine. You can easily identify the female flower, as the bottom of the flower is swollen into the shape of a small gourd.
Birdhouse gourd is a type of tropical hard-shelled squash (which is part of the cucumber family, Cucubitaceae) native to northern Africa. It was cultivated by people 10,000 years ago and spread all over the world because it is easy to grow, and the fruits were used as a water bottle or flask, food storage, floating devices, musical instruments and more.
There are many ways to dry the gourds, but the easiest way is to keep the gourd fruits on the vine until the first freeze, then harvest and store them in a cold, dark and dry area like a basement or garage. Check them once a while and turn each gourd to prevent molding. After the gourds are dried, you can drill a small hole to make your birdhouse.
In late fall in the garden, the humorously-shaped gourds hanging from the garden structure always remind me of the story, “The Secret of the Magic Gourd,” which I stumbled upon when I was a third-grade grade elementary student in Japan. The book was written by a Chinese author, Zhang Tianyi, in 1958. It is about a young boy named Wang Pao who discovers a magic gourd while he was fishing. The gourd grants him anything he wants, yet the power of the magic gourd changes his life upside down. This book’s slightly dark storyline — and a latter half of psychological suspense — gave me a strong impression I still remember: Looking at a pile of gourds I have harvested, I cannot help feeling if one of these gourds might have some magical power to grant me anything I want…
Ebi Kondo is the associate director of horticulture for the Denver Botanic Gardens
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