Making a Gourd Pergola

If you have ever moved to a new place with no garden or even landscaping in existence, you might understand the dilemma I faced in the fall of 2005.  When a piece of land was cleared for my new mobile home, I had no idea how desolate my yard would look. That winter I became depressed almost every time I walked outside and looked at the scalped earth and the lack of vegetation.


But in Spring 2006, I got an idea to help me transform the yard. Besides the flowers, bushes, and trees that I planted, I decided that a pergola would make a huge difference to the overall appearance of my home and yard. My brother-in-law Michael went along with my idea, and he quickly designed the pergola from scratch, aided by a few of my suggestions and photos.


The pergola went up within a few weeks, and as I watched its progress, I planted a crabapple tree, daisies, cornflowers, perennial herbs, and irises. All the while I was thinking of what I would grow on the pergola. I thought in turn of roses, trumpet vine, morning glory, and wisteria. Each of these possibilities had a downside as far as I was concerned.


I had never had much luck with roses, and I wasn’t sure I could figure out which one to buy or how to take care of it in the hot Oklahoma summers to come. Trumpet vine is always easy to grow and attracts hummingbirds; however, it can take over the whole garden if one isn’t careful about pulling seedlings. Morning glories have so many varieties and are carefree, but they are annuals and only pretty for a short time each day. Wisteria is a beautiful vine that I renew my love for every time I go to the South and see it in bloom in the old gardens of antebellum homes, yet it is slow to grow and to bloom.


What I chose in the end was gourds. I had grown gourds before and had a lot of luck with them. They make a great shade with their huge leaves. They produce fruits that are fun to watch grow and are also a great product to work with after they are harvested. Although they are annuals, they are easy to grow and to remove after they have died and dried on the pergola.


I bought birdhouse gourd seeds because I intended to partly repay Michael for his marvelous building expertise with gourds that he could turn into birdhouses, since he is a part-time crafter of birdhouses from all kinds of materials. In late May, I planted a few seeds at the base of each leg of the pergola. In no time, the seeds had sprouted, and the pergola was on its way to being transformed by greenery.


I occasionally watered the gourds, and they did quite well with little work. In September, the vines died back, but in October with some rain, new green life came back with a vengeance, and the growing continued until November when a freeze killed them off for good. From this one pergola I harvested around 75 gourds. I put them in a barn over the winter, and the next summer, I cleaned them and put some of them to use as birdhouses, bowls, and vases. I even found a bit of a market for gourds from crafters who buy them for their work.


This pergola project was a fairly quick way for me to feel more at home in my new home. I had been used to living in a house with a well-established garden and plenty of lush landscaping. But my gourd pergola helped me to see how the bare Oklahoma earth could so rapidly be made green and inviting. Click here to see a photo essay of the development of the pergola from nothing to covered in gourds.

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