"Gourds: Pretty and Practical"

Historic Bath Combines Colonial History and Gardening for Local Second Graders

Bath Elementary second graders carefully washing their gourds.

Throughout the 2005-2006 school year, second graders at Bath Elementary School learned first-hand how gourds were used in early American households through “Gourds: Pretty and Practical”, sponsored by Historic Bath State Historic Site. This hands-on program gave the students a unique opportunity to cultivate their own gourd plants and watch them grow and produce the fruits often often seen decorating Thanksgiving tables this time of year.

The project began in the spring when Historic Bath’s staff planted gourd seeds in their garden. Soon the seeds had sprouted vines, which grew quickly and by summer, were sporting deep green leaves and large yellow flowers. This fall, small gourds appeared on the plants.

On September 7, 2005, after getting settled into the new school year, Bath Elementary teachers and about 70 students visited Historic Bath’s gourd patch for the first time. First the kids watched a PowerPoint presentation on the importance of gourds, how the plant’s fruit has been used throughout human history, the gourd plants’ growth cycle and how they would be involved in nurturing and harvesting the gourds. Most were amazed to find that some colonial families may have only had dishes made from gourds and that people were still eating off them in the 20th-century. The children then actually went out into the gourd patch to see how the plants were growing.

Everyone has to pick their own gourds!

Then the waiting began. The drying process can take several weeks or even months. As the process progressed, staff at Historic Bath briefed the students when they returned monthly to check on the gourds. When completely dried, the gourds were turned into luffa sponges, dippers and bowls. Goals included making the bowls part of a classroom art project. An unusual combination of fun and learning, this project was designed to follow North Carolina’s second grade curriculum guidelines. Along with the hands-on activities, the children assembled a booklet on the gourds project using such tools as pictographs, bar graphs and sequences.

The project did not end with the children just making items from the gourds but in collecting the plants’ seeds. Come spring, the rising third graders cultivated the garden area behind Bath’s Van Der Veer House and carefully planted the seeds of their labor as a gift to next year's second grade class at Bath Elementary.

Gourds fall into three types:

Students savor the fruits of their labor in Historic Bath's gourd patch.

  • The cucurbita or ornamentals are the familiar colorful gourds seen in fall arrangements. The vines produce large orange-colored blossoms and bloom in the daytime. Some of the many kinds of ornamentals are crown of thorns, pear, orange, egg, spoon, and warties.
  • The lagenaria or hardshells are usually larger gourds, and the vines produce white blossoms, which bloom at night. Lagenaria are green when growing on the vine, and have thick, hard shells when dry. This is the gourd the Bath Elementary children have learned was once used as tableware. Some varieties of hardshells are dipper, bushel, bottle, birdhouse, and maranka.
  • Luffas, unlike other gourds, have an easily removed outer shell, and are important for their tough, fibrous interior. The yellow flowered vines bloom during the day and luffas are commonly used as sponges.

For more information on Historic Bath or the gourds project, call 252/923-3971 or email bath@ncmail.net.

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