Ornamental gourds add color and interest to fall arrangements and decorations. Children, as well as adults, take great interest in these odd plants. Gourds, members of the Cucurbitaceae family, come in bell, orange, egg, pear and apple shapes. They may be smooth, warty, colored, plain striped or ridged in pattern.
The key to keeping gourds is in harvesting, said David Robson, University of Illinois Extension Specialist, PSEP. The first fruit will mature in late summer. A shriveling and browning of the stem is evidence that the gourd is mature.
Do not test the shell with your fingernail. This will dent or bruise the shell, making an excellent entry for bacteria and insects, which can damage the fruit.
Use sharp shears or a knife when harvesting gourds and leave a few inches of the stem attached to avoid bruising fruit. This stem may drop off as the gourd dries; but if it remains intact, it may enhance the decorative effect.
Wash the gourds in warm, soapy water, and rinse them in a mixture of water and household disinfectant. This removes any soil and soil-borne bacteria clinging to the shell. Dry each gourd with a soft cloth or towel to avoid bruising or scratching the skin.
Dry the gourds in two steps. First, to remove surface moisture, spread the gourds out on several layers of newspapers in a warm, dry place. Space the gourds so they don’t touch. This allows air to circulate for faster drying. Turn the fruits daily, and replace any dampened newspaper with fresh, dry paper.
It should take the gourds about one week to dry.
During the surface drying, the shell hardens and the surface color sets. Discard any fruit that shrivels or develops soft spots.
For the final drying, wipe the remaining gourds with household disinfectant. Spread them out on newspapers in a warm, dark, dry place for three to four weeks. An attic, warm basement or closet is ideal for this final drying period. Heat encourages drying and helps prevent disease development. Darkness prevents fading of the color.
You can display gourds in their natural state or use a paste wax or shellac to give gourds a hard, glossy finish.
Once gourds have been prepared, you can create designs on the surface of the gourd. Faces, flowers or other patterns can be penciled on to the surface of the gourd. Then, cut the design with a sharp carving tool, or burn into the surface with an electric carver or needle. When the design is complete, wax the cut surfaces with transparent furniture wax. This helps to preserve the gourd. Rewax the surface every few months.
Fresh flowers, such as chrysanthemums, are also ideal to use in small tubes of water that can be concealed among the gourds to keep the flowers fresh. Evergreens, ivy or autumn leaves can also be used in the water tubes.
Bittersweet, dried berries, seed pods or fresh fruit also are interesting when arranged with gourds.
Your display will be more stable if you attach the gourds to the container, or to each other, with small pieces of floral clay.
Your imagination is the limit when decorating your home for fall.
From the Oct. 23-29, 2013, issue