Gourds, by accident

    It’s generally true that the world of gardeners is split into two- vegetable people and flower people. I certainly fraternize with vegetable people, but I can’t relate to them.

    In most city gardens space is at a premium, and to me it seems senseless to squander square footage to produce plain old food- food you could easily and cheaply buy at the farmers market. Why, when that same space could be dedicated to growing breathtakingly beautiful and intoxicatingly fragrant flowers?

    This year I got my first inkling of the attraction of growing crops. I’m so closed-minded and biased that it never would have happened intentionally. But a little pile of compost at the edge of my yard grew this amazing batch of gourds, and it changed me.

    It took a while to even notice, and it was only when the vines had begun covering a woodpile did I venture over for a glance at what was going on. My eye caught a glimpse of yellow, and a couple of knobby green things under the broad foliage. “Whatever,” I sniffed, and went back inside.

    But I noticed I was starting to spend a little more time wandering by the gourd patch. I liked watching the ants and bees as they pollinated the giant, open flowers, some of which were bright yellow and others white. I noticed that a few of the vines were sterile- when the flowers dropped off no fruit began to form. Ripping those out seemed like it would leave more room for the productive vines, and I was curious to see what was going to happen. The gourds themselves were continually changing shape and color, and I was getting curious to see how they were going to finally turn out- it was like watching children grow up in a matter of weeks, instead of decades.

    By the morning in September when I pulled the remaining vines from the enormous amount of space they had overtaken-sometimes more than a foot a day- I was extremely into these gourds. From the seeds of last year’s Halloween decorations tossed in the compost pile, they had grown themselves into a number of remarkable objects. Germinating in a construction site, they rallied through the hottest July, the wettest August, a hurricane, an earthquake, and almost total indifference from anybody. They were pecked at by chickens, stepped on by workmen, and squished under equipment. And until the day I yanked them out, they were still producing baby gourds.

    I can’t wait to throw them out, and see what happens next year.

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