Artist in the Garden: Betty Finch Gourds

As we raced through the aisles of the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, Betty’s gourds slowed us to a crawl. We were famished and in search of lunch, so promised ourselves a trip back to her booth. I’m so glad we went back.

Check out these show-stoppers:

betty finch man and cat

Gourd Man holding a cat

Can you believe she sculpted these as  they grew? I love the cat’s casual pose and expressive eyes.

betty finch cat gourd

Kitty gourd with amber eyes

Here’s another kitty. She has some amazing horse sculptures on her site as well.

betty finch

That’s Betty taking of her mask

I wish I had a better shot of the artist, but you can see several of her photos on her website linked below. People were clamoring for a closer look.

betty finch chess board

Extraordinary chess board

If you don’t play chess, this is certainly a good excuse to start.

betty finch mask

Gourd mask

Betty uses a variety of techniques to encourage the unusual growth of these gourds. I found her website after the show and learned a bit more about the technique. I grew a few birdhouse gourds several years ago, so can attest to how fun they are to grow. I’m still waiting for a mama bird and her family to move in.

Betty’s website says she’s

an avid gardener and specializes in experimenting with hand-trained, manipulated and molded gourds. This interest is what led her to meet with master gourd trainer, Jim Story of Pendleton Indiana from whom she learned the art of growing gourds in knots, spirals and flat wood molds.

You can read more about her growing technique and inspiration on her site.

If you’re as fascinated as I am, be sure to check out Finch Gourds. She’s written a book on the subject as well.

Birdhouse Gourd: Acorns and Twigs

birdhouse gourd collage 2014Two summers ago I planted Birdhouse Gourds from seed. Infatuated with the idea of carving my own birdhouses, I imagined a garden filled with nesting birds.

A gardener can dream, can’t she?

Most of the gourds grew to about three inches, then dropped off the vine. By season’s end, two of the gourds reached maturity. I brought them indoors and let them dry for close to a year. They turned a wonderful, spotted brown.

I eagerly drilled an opening in one side, then added holes tiny holes in the bottom for drainage and along the stem. Further reading, however, proved that the opening was too large for any of our native birds. I learned, too, that the height of the nest and its ability to camouflage are important. If all the nesting conditions aren’t met, the nest is a no-go.

So, with nothing to lose, I hung the gourd in the tree and simply enjoyed the view.

Several months later I found the gourd on the lawn. I picked it up to return it to the tree and heard a rattling inside. All sorts of things crossed my mind. Could it be a nest? If it was a nest, why was it on the ground? Since it was on the ground, did another critter disturb it? When I mustered the courage to look inside, I realized it was full of small twigs and acorn-like nuts. Excited about this new and unexpected development, I returned the gourd to the tree, hoping the scavenger might return.

gourd with twigs

Gourd with one of the twigs visible

Alas, I’m still waiting. I’m sure the critter is coming and going, just not when I’m around to see it.

Do you ever wonder what’s going on outside your window as you go about the business of daily life? I’m intrigued by the discoveries of nature at work and wish I had the time to sit undisturbed in a chair so I could focus on the nature around me. Alternatively, wouldn’t it be fun to install a ‘nanny-cam’ outdoors to capture what we missed?

What’s your take on the contents of the gourd? Is it a secret stash? An unfinished nest? Did one of the squirrels tidy up the yard and use the gourd as a rubbish bin? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Birdhouse Gourd: Open for Nesting

After all the worry and fuss about drilling holes in my precious gourds, the first of two is open for nesting.  My resident handyman drilled a bird-sized hole on the front of the gourd, two small ones at the top for hanging, and drainage holes below.

dried birdhouse gourd

Birdhouse gourd: open for nesting

birdhouse gourd opening

Closeup: The opening should be the size of the bird you want to attract. We want to attract all the cute birds. That made it easy.

holes drilled in bottom of gourd

Tiny holes in the bottom allow for air circulation and drainage. Nesting is a messy business.

It’s amazing  how soft it is inside, almost like downy wool. I wasn’t expecting that. The walls of the gourd are thick and sturdy. It’s no wonder a bird might call this home.

I threaded a piece of florist wire through the top and I’m having fun hanging it from various trees. We’re months away from nesting season, but I’m glad to have one ready to go.

Several of our trees are deciduous, so they won’t provide adequate protection for a nest, but I do have a couple of ideas.  Our orange tree is fairly dense and in fact, houses a large nest from a few years back. The Star Jasmin vine in our side yard is another possibility. It’s so dense you can’t see to the center.

Mama birds know best, so all I can do is provide the medium and hope she likes it. Maybe I’ll write her a little note that says ‘pick me! pick me!’ and leave it on a branch nearby.

dried birdhouse gourd

Mama Bird Wanted: Inquire Within

In the meantime, I’ll hang the beautiful gourd in plain view. As nesting season draws near, I’ll tuck it away in a  tall, densely foliaged tree with hope in my heart while listening for the song of baby birds.

Do you have nests in the trees nearby?  Do you offer nesting material for your feathered neighbors?  Photos also welcome in the comment section below.

cat and seeds

Hmmmm…they do look a bit like cat treats.

birdhouse gourd seeds and gourd wall

This shows the thickness of the dried gourd. Bonus: look at all those dried seeds from inside.

Brown is the New Green

In most gardens green is good.  Brown, not so much. That old saw gets turned on its ear, however when you’re drying birdhouse gourds.

I planted these gourds from seed for the first time last summer. Adorable green mini-gourds came and went, but in the end only two grew to full size. Then the cold weather set in and that was that.

green birdhouse gourds

The Birdhouse Gourds Twins

I brought ‘the gourd twins’ inside thinking the forced-air heating would speed up the drying process. You can’t rush nature so I did the next best thing: I dressed them up in scarves, moved them around as household decor, and eventually set them on top of a cabinet to dry undisturbed.

birdhouse gourds with scarves

Cozy gourds settling in for the winter

A few weeks ago, my son came to me and said “Mom, I don’t think you’re going to like this.”  He assumed they had gone bad.  In this case, brown is good.  It means the gourds are finally dry and ready for crafting.

DSC_0003

Of course, now I’m afraid to make my move.  I want to use one of the twins for its intended purpose: a birdhouse.  To do that, I need to drill a hole.

What if it cracks?

What if it snaps?

What if “I” make the hole too big?

Truth be told, my husband is the power tool guy around here, so he’ll be doing the drilling with me hovering nearby like the nervous new mom that I am.  Let’s face it: I’ve waited nine months for these twins.  I don’t want to mess this up.

The second gourd, if all goes well, will be welcoming garden fairies.  I don’t really have an heir and a spare. I’ll be pressing both gourds into service.  That’s a lot of pressure resting on their sloping shoulders.  Let’s hope we are all up to the task.

 

Harvesting the Gourds: I Grew a Pair

It’s pouring today. (I love it). Good thing I cleaned the garden box when I did. After a midweek frost, the birdhouse gourd vines shriveled up. I cut down the last of them and brought the pair of gourds indoors for drying.

Tidied Garden

Tidied Garden

I have a good giggle whenever I pass them. They look exactly like a pair of bowling pins.

two birdhouse gourds

Lindy keeps an eye on the “bowling pins.”

Earlier in the year, one of the vines grew up and over the telephone line. Eventually one of the two large gourds took hold, putting weight on the lines. I came up with a quick fix using garden twine and a mesh bag, pictured below.

Birdhouse Gourd:  In the Bag

birdhouse gourd in the bag

It worked really well, allowing the gourd to grow unhampered and at the same time it kept my internet up and running. I have my priorities.

What I didn’t expect was the honeycomb pattern the bag left on the gourd. It’s not imprinted but rather faded from the lack of sun. Isn’t that interesting?

Honeycomb Patterned Gourd

Honeycomb Patterned Gourd

Now we wait.  While the gourds are drying, I’ll be dreaming of a way to decorate each one. Here are a few ideas:

Debbie Almond: Birdsmiths

Linseed Oil finish from Fun In The Making

September Treats: A Little of This and That

purple flower polka dot plant

Tiny purple blooms dot the Polka Dot plant

My garden’s been busy over the weekend. In just 24 hours, the Pink Polka Dot plant produced several flowers.  I didn’t know the plant would actually bloom.  All plants have a flower and a fruit, but many are subtle and therefore go unnoticed. Tiny purple flowers dot the plant.  They’re quite small, no bigger than a centimeter, but they look vibrant against the mostly pink and green backdrop of the spotted leaves.  What a fun discovery.

yellow daisy like flower

Three cheers for yellow!!!

Also growing in one of the pots is a fresh, yellow daisy or daisy-like flower.  It’s another surprise from the packet of wildflowers planted in early spring. Every few weeks, a new flower appears. Today’s gorgeous bloom is as bright as a sunflower, but smaller in size. Yellow flowers are the garden cheerleaders: upbeat and sunny.

In that same pot, one or two fuchsia cosmos remain, a nice backdrop for the hummingbirds darting in and out at the feeder.

bird house gourd

Bowling-pin Gourd

I smiled when I rounded the corner of the trellis and saw a rapidly growing birdhouse gourd still thriving on the vine.  Most of the early fruit was small, but this latest gourd is growing at break-neck speed.  In its present form, it reminds me of a bowling pin.  Several smaller gourds grew up the trellis to the side of the house and they now hang below the eaves like a string of Christmas lights. Every time I see them I get a good giggle.

Tomorrow is October 1st with a projected temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit  (34 degrees Celsius). Crazy weather!  I’m starting my Halloween countdown in earnest tomorrow, featuring something seasonal daily.  Stay tuned.

I love October!  How about you?

cosmo and hummer

Cosmo and Hummingbird
Beauty Times Two

Christmas light gourds

Who needs to hang Christmas lights?

Birdhouse Gourd: Racing the Biological Clock

Our birdhouse gourd vines are sporting several small fruits, each one about two inches long. They’re the color of limes and about as large as an over-sized peanut. Aren’t they cute?

The question of the hour is will they grow up?

We found the seed packets on one of our nursery rounds, but not until after planting the rest of the garden. The idea of growing a birdhouse was irresistible so of course the packet made its way into my cart. I envisioned a garden full of birdhouses, just waiting for a feathered mama to claim them.

We have at least another month of warm weather, but will it be enough? Please send your happy-garden energy vibe. I’ll be sure to report back.

birdhouse gourd flower

Birdhouse gourd bloom

Birdhouse gourd bloom

birdhouse gourd fruit