Tag Archives: gourd

Pumpkins Galore

Pumpkins are one of the icons of October. They provide a seasonal cue for fall. You can carve ’em, eat ’em (along with flesh, seeds, and flowers), and decorate ’em. You can even float ’em in water.

A few activity ideas…

Grow pumpkins, gourds, and squash in the garden in spring and watch them grow all season long. You can even do pumpkin scarring as the fruit forms on the vine.

Themed PumpkinsDecorate Jack O’Lanterns, either by carving them or creating no-carve themed pumpkins made to look like black cats, spiders, witches, ghosts, fall flowers, fall leaves, traditional, and more. Before pumpkins became the traditional fruit or veggie of choice to carve, some cultures like the Irish were known to carve other objects, such as potatoes, rutabagas, gourds, turnips, beets, and more. Some of today’s traditions are, in fact, rooted in Celtic history.

Blooming pumpkinGlue dried flowers and other natural elements onto mini pumpkins.

Do a sensory exploration activity. Float pumpkins in water and try to push them underwater. Carve out a lid, remove it, and pull the pumpkin “guts” out. Examine the contents – what does it feel like? What does it smell like? Save the seeds and do a separate activity with them, like seed drying, seed dying, finger labyrinths with seed, and so on.

Pie Pumpkin CenterpiecesCarve out a lid, remove it along with the pumpkin “guts,” insert a cup inside the pumpkin, fill it halfway with water, and use it as a vase to create a floral arrangement in a pumpkin. Pie pumpkins or Millionaire pumpkins are great for this.

Examine pumpkins for their interesting features and/or funny names. There are white, yellow, orange, striped, and almost red ones. There are pumpkins with bumpy “warts” all over them. There are miniature, small, medium, large, and giant sized pumpkins.

Take a look at this variety of pumpkins.

Knucklehead pumpkin
Knucklehead pumpkin
Red Warty Thing
Red Warty Thing
Turk's Turban
Turk’s Turban squash
Cheddar pumpkin
Cheddar pumpkin
Jarrahdale
Jarrahdale
Pink Banana squash
Pink Banana squash
Millionaire pumpkin
Millionaire pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Wolf pumpkin
Blue Hubbard squash
Blue Hubbard squash
Chioggia pumpkin
Chioggia pumpkin
Kushaw squash
Kushaw squash
Naples squash
Naples squash
Monster gourd
Monster gourd
Apple gourd
Apple gourd
Big Mac pumpkin
Big Mac pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
One Too Many pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Crystal Star pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin
Miniature pumpkins
Miniature pumpkins
Cinderella pumpkin
Cinderella pumpkin
Table Ace squash
Table Ace squash
Speckled Hound squash
Speckled Hound squash

A Roster of Nature Based Activities, Part 1

Many thanks to those who attended my session at the American Horticultural Therapy Association annual conference in Portland, Oregon! I presented a lot of information but wasn’t able to get to explain the task analyses, supply lists, or nuances of delivering the activities. Over the next few days, I will be sharing a sampling of nature based therapeutic activities and will hopefully be able to share enough of the details to illustrate each activity. So keep checking back with us!

“Reinventing the Wheel”

I’m constantly challenging myself to reimagine some tried-and-true activities, like seed sowing, so each activity’s delivery is fresh and interesting for clients, as well as myself. So I bring seed sowing outdoors and offer it as an alternative to engage clients who prefer something besides planting the raised bed. Or experiment with sowing new seed we’ve never grown before. Or mix it up by using different types of pots – peat pots, 4″ square pots, round quart pots, and more. Or arrange seed and recycled flower petals from yesterday’s floral arranging session to make finger labyrinths on the tabletop.

Budget Busting Tips

I present a variety of activities on this blog and invest in materials that reflect the quality of my company’s services and brand. There are ways to keep supplies from getting too expensive – via thrift shopping, shopping sales or seasonally, recycling items, swapping items for inexpensive items, growing or producing your own items in the garden. I love analyzing a photo of an activity product on Pinterest and dissecting it for the supplies needed to make the product…and then get creative on what to use in delivering the activity. Be on the lookout for tips throughout – you can check out some budget busting tips on the activities found here and here.

The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings - A Metaphor
The Story of a Tree, as told by the tree rings – A Metaphor

A Tree’s Story, as told by the cross section of tree’s trunk

Dendrochronology is the scientific study of tree rings to analyze climate changes, environmental conditions, and other events in the past. I first heard about dendrochronology in college when my husband participated in a research project studying the fire history of certain areas of Appalachia with his major advisor. My interests were piqued when he said the dendrochronologist had examined the wood of a rare violin made by Stradivari in order to better tell that instrument’s story. In studying tree rings, we can tell a lot about a tree’s history. First, by counting the number of rings, one can tell the age of the tree. Then measure the distance between each set of rings – during periods of drought, the rings are close together as the tree didn’t have all the moisture it needed in order grow very much that year(s). During periods of adequate rainfall, the rings are further apart, meaning the tree utilized the abundance of moisture to grow a lot. Certain blemishes on the tree’s cross section can also tell the damage caused by insect pests, disease, or fire. The wheels are already turning in my head about how we can relate a tree’s story to one’s own personal story – identify times of positive personal growth or challenging times, such as illness or difficult life events. This can be a powerful metaphor for those dealing with trauma or illness. I blogged about using this activity with a group of women who are refugees resettled to the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Painted Gourds
Painted Gourds

Oh the variety of gourds there are! What a sensory experience! You’ve got caveman club gourds – they look like a caveman’s club! – or birdhouse gourds – yes, you can transform them into birdhouses for our feathered friends – or apple and pear gourds – they resemble the fruit they’re named after – or loofah gourds – I originally thought loofahs were sponges from the sea, but nope, they grow on land. Google gourd art, and you’ll be inspired by the creative artists out there who have transformed hard shelled gourds into penguins, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and other forms of painted or woodburned pieces of art. I’ve even used puffy paint (also called 3-D paint) to embellish gourds. Check out how to make this snowman gourd.

Fernleaf Prints
Fernleaf Prints

Fernleaf Prints

Ferns are a fascinating and diverse group of plants. They are primitive and prehistoric plants that reproduce through spores – no flowers or seeds here. There’s Japanese painted fern, Autumn fern, Christmas fern, holly fern, Australian tree fern, maidenhair fern, lady fern, wood fern, tassel fern, sword fern, shield fern, bird’s nest fern, rabbit’s foot fern, staghorn fern, and much more. Some ferns have straplike leaves, some have waxy leaves, others have fine and delicate leaves, some have giant leaves. Some have hairy stems and rhizomes. You must check out Oriental chain fern (Woodwardia orientalis) and its reproductive methods – so cool! Have samples of various ferns – cuttings or live plants – on hand to compare and contrast leaves. You can use these leaves to do a matching game or make leaf printing art. Include ferns as part of a study of prehistoric plants, along with ginkgo, Wollemi pine, cycads, bald cypress, and horsetail (Equisetum). Check out these articles on prehistoric plants by Kids Gardening and the Eden Project.

Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers
Dog Days of Summer Suncatchers

The phrase “Dog Days of Summer” is derived from the Greco Roman beliefs around the meaning of the dog star Sirius’ position in the sky and the coincidence that this event occurs during the hottest part of the summer. (Read more about here.) During this activity, we talk about the dog star Sirius and analyze its position in Orion’s belt and nearby Canus major and Canus minor with pictures or illustrations used as visual cues. We discuss stargazing and astronomy. We read the imagery and imagine the sensory experience of this poem by Marilyn Lott. Then, we use clear self sealing laminating pouches to arrange pressed flowers and star stickers for a “Dog Days of Summer” suncatcher. (Shown here in a clear acrylic photo frame.)

Keep checking back as we update this post!

Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Butterfly Host and Nectar Florals
Herbal Monograms
Herbal Monograms
Kissing Balls
Kissing Balls
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues
Plant Pollinators: Butterfly Visual Cues

Gourd Snowmen

It’s a snowman…made out of gourd!?! Typically a favorite fall accessory, gourds can be used year-round for craft projects due to their hard woody shells that aren’t inclined to rot. So in January, when you’re looking for new indoor activity ideas, embrace the winter season and transform these lesser known cousins of pumpkins and squash into a cool season Mr. Potato Head of sorts.

*Note: More photos to come…hopefully! My external hard drive (where ALL of my photos are stored – *palm to forehead*) crashed while working on this post. Cross your fingers and toes that I am able to get all my photos back. I staged a couple of shots so I could get this post online.

Gourd Snowman supplies (not all supplies shown)

Supplies                                                                                          

  • Gourd, cleaned, prepared, and ready for crafting
  • Newspaper
  • Paint (in white; use other colors for additional decorating, only if you have time to allow the white to dry first. Acrylic paint works best; tempera is ok but prone to flaking, especially if it’s washable tempera.)
  • Paintbrush
  • Plate for paint
  • Hair dryer, optional
  • Socks, preferably women’s dress socks (I prefer socks over other materials because they’re stretchy to fit any sized gourd “head” and cheap and easy.)
  • Googly eyes (is there another name for these?), optional
  • Glue (if using googly eyes)
  • Rhinestone stickers (I have used black and orange stickers for the eyes/mouth/buttons and nose respectively), optional
  • 3-D paint (otherwise known as “Puffy Paint,” in black and orange)
  • Pencil
  • Drill with drill bit
  • Twigs (with a diameter that matches the drill bit)
  • Pruners
  • Ribbon or fabric (I used narrow pieces of black felt, with “fringe” cut at both ends)
  • Scissors

Step-by-Step Instructions                                                               
Gather together supplies and have ready. Make sure the hair dryer is plugged in, and the drill is fully charged. Pour the white paint onto a plate, and add a paintbrush.

Set the gourd on a piece of flat laying newspaper.

Paint the gourd completely white – top to bottom. (One coat of paint is fine; two coats are perfect.)

Allow the paint to dry. To expedite the drying process, you can use a hair dryer to dry the paint. Keep the dryer moving at all times to avoid heating up any one section too much. For me, the heat from the hair dryer did cause a tiny amount of cracking in the paint, but nothing too bad – I was satisfied with the results and touched up any cracked or faded spots with additional paint. Allow the paint to air dry, if you intend on creating high quality products or have the time to dry and come back to finish (which I don’t during a one-hour program).

Pull the black sock over the upper portion of the gourd onto the snowman’s “head.” Fold the ends of the sock up to make it fit the head like a floppy snow hat. Embellish the hat if desired.

Now it’s time to make the snowman’s face. Here are a few options for making the eyes. (1) Use glue to stick the googly eyes onto its “head.” (2) Or, apply rhinestone stickers for the eyes. They are three dimensional and look like charcoal to me. (Om, channeling Frosty…) (3) Or, use 3-D paint to create two dots for the eyes. (I prefer black for the traditional charcoal look.) Keep in mind that the 3-D paint could run a bit, if the sides of the gourd are steep. Laying the gourd on its side, with newspaper as shims to hold it upright, helps to prevent the paint from running.

Add the nose. Use the 3-D paint (orange, if you’ve got it) to draw a long and narrow sideways triangle – it should resemble a carrot.

Add the mouth. Use either the rhinestone stickers or the same color of 3-D paint you used to create the eyes, and add a few dots in a line to resemble a mouth.

Use the rhinestone stickers or 3-D paint to create “buttons” down the lower portion of the gourd, or the “body.”

Select the two spots where the snowman’s arms will go – one spot on each side of the snowman’s “body.” Use a pencil to mark the spots.

Use the drill to poke two holes into the gourd.

Cut the twigs to fit the holes and insert them. The twigs should fit tightly without wiggling loose. The twig arms need to stay right where they are. If you accidentally cut the holes too big, apply masking tape around the end of the twig and insert into the holes.

Cut the ribbon or fabric piece so that it will tie around the “neck” of the gourd, with a bit extra on the ends. Tie around the gourd, and voila! It’s a scarf.

Set your snowman in a safe location to dry completely.

Jan2015 022Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…                   
Gourds come in a variety of shapes and sizes – swan neck, apple and pear shapes, gourds with warts and ridges, mini ones, long ones, round ones, and more – providing a myriad of opportunities for sensory exploration. Shake them and you can hear the seeds rattle inside. Start your own GPO – er, Gourd Percussion Orchestra. I keep a variety of gourds in stock and bring them out every year to explore with clients. Compare them to “green” gourds (if available), pumpkins, and squash. Show off pictures and samples of gourd art created by professional artists. Discuss their historical use – did you know that loofah sponges actually come from a gourd? (I thought they came from the sea.)

Other gourd uses to consider, besides your snowman:
– Make snowman ornaments out of mini gourds.
– Embellish miniature egg shaped gourds as holiday ornaments with other themes.
– Paint self portraits onto gourds and create your own gourd “family.”
– Drill a hole, clean the gourd’s interior, decorate the exterior, attach a twine hanger, and hang as a birdhouse.

Contraindications                                                                                   
Beware of mold that can form on the gourd’s exterior during the drying process. Though the mold can actually imprint an interesting pattern on the outside of the gourd, you may need to clean gourds thoroughly before taking them to work with clients. Make sure to store gourds in a well ventilated, dry area. (I store mine in stacking bulb crates.)

Take care when handling the drill and hair dryer. Set up a station where participants go to someone approved to handle the drill and/or hair dryer on their gourds.

Program Notes                                                                                      
The hair dryer will not speed up the drying time for 3-D paint. That, my friend, takes at least one day to dry. So if you use 3-D paint, make sure to place the snowman in a safe place to dry overnight – and make sure the gourd lays flat so the paint doesn’t run. (Don’t wait, like I did, until the day of a program to create your sample gourd, with 3-D paint, for show and tell. I drove the entire way to the program location, holding my gourd in one hand and driving with the other. I got there successfully, then interested participants started passing around the ‘wet’ gourd and well, you know…)

It may be necessary to clean and prepare gourds for craft work ahead of time, especially if you have gourds that haven’t been “finished” and are dirty. The gourd cleaning process can be done as a standalone program, in preparation for the program when the gourds will ultimately be decorated. If this is the case, follow these steps:

Vessel, such as dishtub or clean bucket
Water
Something to weigh down the gourds as they soak
Pot scrubbing brush works best. Also try sponges with abrasive pad on one side.
Safety gear, including a dust mask respirator and medical or dish gloves

Soak gourds, completely submersed, in water for about 10 minutes. Then use scrubbing brush or sponge to scrub along the gourd’s exterior. Allow to dry completely. (Instructions adapted from Welburn Gourd Farm.)

Budget Buster Tips                                                                                
If doing this activity with a group, you can take adult-sized black socks and cut them in half to save on costs. After applying the sock hat onto the top of the snowman’s head, tie a small piece of string, twine, or ribbon to the floppy end of the sock, about one quarter the way down from the floppy end.

You might be able to find dried gourds online on clearance, just after Christmas and into January. Check out Welburn Gourd Farm or Amish Gourds for online purchasing. You can also trying growing your own gourds from seed, if you have the space in your garden.