In this issue:

We are so pleased to have with us Grace Swanson, a woman whose roots began in Nigeria and who ended up in California. As a child gourds were part of every day life but once moving to America they were forgotten.


That is until a few years ago when she came across a workshop on gourds and pyrography. The scent of burning gourd shell brought many childhood memories. More workshops followed and now Grace's name is well-known in the craft show circuit in California.



It is almost spring and people's mailboxes are filling up with seed catalogues. Currently there are thousands of gardeners out there beginning to plan and visualize the upcoming season. For those of you planting gourds we  will be offering growing tips on everything from seed germination to planting, pollinating through to the harvest. This will be very helpful in particular, for the first time grower. 



We have our trivia and some interesting letters from you so pull up a chair and enjoy this March issue of Gourd Fever

(The above photos is art by Grace Swanson.)

Grace Swanson: Nigerian Roots Emerge Through Gourd Art 

Grace was born and raised in north east Nigeria. Her parents were missionaries who went to Nigeria separately during WW II, married and had 3 kids. Grace lived in Nigeria until she was 16 years old and a junior in high school. For a great many years she considered Nigeria to be her real home and was home sick for a long time after she left.


As a child she lived way out in the "bush" and her playmates (when she was not away at boarding school) were the neighborhood kids. Grace and her siblings learned and followed everything their friends and their parents did. It was a lovely childhood full of adventure and wonderment.


Gourds are very much a part of Nigerian culture. It was commonplace to see people burning designs into gourds. (In Nigeria they are called  calabash.) For example every new bride gets a large collection of newly burned gourds. People use gourds for everything from spoons to bowls and water containers. They even grew huge ones to be used as personal flotation devices to cross streams.



Grace has been a docent (instructor) at the San Diego Botanica Gardens for many years and it was here that she saw a class on gourd pyrography. She thought to herself, "Well I most certainly know what a gourd is. I think I'll check this out."


There were only 2 people in the class and the instructors attitude was "Lets have some fun." Armed with a cheap wood burner and a gourd, Grace burned in her first design. The scent flooded her mind with memories of Nigeria and after that experience there was no looking back.


As a woman with great imagination and energy, Grace finds that life as a whole inspires her. She likes to get lost in her huge collection of art books. She also has a couple of large binders full of stuff cut from magazines or taken off the Internet. Patterns are seen in everything and Grace is always seeking out paintings, pottery...anything interesting that she can modify for her gourd art.



For many years Grace was a watercolor artist. In the beginning she told herself that her art would not be commercial. She thought she should paint whatever she wanted and then hope it would sell. That philosophy however changed over the years.


Grace has found that selling her artwork is delightful! When doing a show she will create a certain percentage of work that she knows will sell. As she lives on the coast she finds that ocean themes always do well. Grace is quick to add though that it is the death of an artist to only produce what you know sells.


One - quarter of Grace's time is spent on experimenting with new designs or techniques. If it sells fine, if it doesn't she gives it away, donates it or stashes it in the back of her studio. She reviews any mistakes she may have made and learns from them.



A heavy schedule fills Grace's calender every year. There are between 16 - 20 shows to do and they are all in California. She also has a website but believes that to really appreciate gourd art, you have to pick it up and feel it. Her website is a place where potential customers can go to buy and appeciate art plus it gets her name out there.


Between her volunteer work, her full show calender and life in general Grace has now found the time to teach. She heeded the words of Maya Angelou..."If you get - give. If you learn - teach," and with her vast wealth of information and experience Grace's classes are quick to fill.


To date she has taught through the 3 groups she belongs to:

1.) the San Diego County Gourd Artists 


2.) the San Diego Art Guild 


3.) the Misti Washington Gourd and Baskey Guild.


In closing, if by chance you get an opportunity to meet this energetic, dynamic woman do. She will make you feel welcome and right at home. In the meantime check out Grace's website...there is lots of art featured that is not in this article. 

The Garden Arts: Gourd Growing In The Home Garden



For the gardener, growing gourds can be a very rewarding experience as the journey gourds take is fascinating. For the artist, their vision is the wonderful supply of gourd canvases that will be filling their workshops in a few months. For the gardener/artist, it is a marriage made in heaven.


In the upcoming months we will be providing information which will ensure that you will have successful yields. As an ex-commercial gourd farmer I have experienced it all and would love to share the highlights with you. To get started in this issue we will talk about seed germination and seedling care. We will also touch on planting out as the next newsletter will not be out until the beginning of June and by that time the seedlings should be thriving in your garden. 



General Characteristics of a Hard-Shell Gourd

1.) Gourds are a vigorous vine which can grow up to 30 feet if it is left without pruning. It has beautiful large leaves and white night-blooming flowers.


2.) The vine has thick,strong tendrils which grow close to the fruit. They are natural climbers which makes them ideal for trellissing or along a chain link fence.


3.) Gourds can be grown on the ground - keep in mind they need room for this. Heat is a big requirement as is water. They require 120 days to mature and the drying occurs over winter.


4.) In addition to hard-shell gourds ornamental gourds, grown in pots, are a lovely addition to any garden or patio. The flowers are large and bright orange or yellow and like the hard-shell gourd, ornamentals grow quickly. Because they are so easy and magical they are ideal for children to take on. The small gourds are wonderful for children's art projects.


5.) Luffas are super cool and should be trellised. Luffas have a thick dark brown covering  when mature and they contain lots of seeds. They are loads of fun and make great gifts anytime.


Planting Out In The Garden


Gourd Requirements:

1.) Location - Choose a hot, sunny spot with a southern exposure.


2.) Rich soil and heat - Enrich the area with compost before planting. Dig in well. To retain even more heat warm your planting area a week or two ahead of time by cutting open black garbage bags. Spread the plastic over the soil and secure the edges with either rocks or soil. 


3.) Water - Gourds require a fair amount of water so plant close to a water source. If you are planting close to your house conserve water by using your used dish water and rain water.



To Trellis or Grow On The Ground?

  • Trellissed gourds take up less room and are easier to prune. At harvest time they can be left on the vine to overwinter.
  • The trellis must be strong as green gourds can be very heavy. 
  • Dipper gourds will have nice straight handles when trellissed.
  • Ground grown gourds can be grown in hills or in straight rows. 
  • Plant with 3 - 4 feet between seedlings.
  • For watering an irrigation system (drip hose) will make things really easy plus conserve water.
  • Plant large varieties such as Bushels on the ground.

In June topics will cover pruning, pollination and insect and disease control. In the meantime if you have any questions about gourd growing send them in. We will be happy to answer them.

"Out Of The Mailbag"


Hello Northern Dipper,

I am thinking about selling my gourd art at some local craft shows but have never done anything even close to this. I am a little nervous and could use some advice. I know you have done many shows; can you help me?

                              Thank you, Jeanette Brown


Dear Jeanette, 

Shows can be very rewarding providing that you chose the right venue for your work. Following are a few points that you should look at when starting out.


1.) Do Your Research - Investigate what shows you want to do and then walk them. Talk to the vendors to find out how profitable the show is, what kind of people attend. Ask what other shows they recommend. There is a circuit and believe me, the vendors know best. It is important to get into a venue where your art fits.


2.) Costs - It is an expensive proposition doing the trade/craft show circuit these days. There are booth fees, travel, shipping or gas if you are driving, the cost of tables and chairs (if you don't have your own), electricity for lighting, insurance, hotel and food. It can all add up at the end of the day. 


3.) Start Small - When starting out rent a small booth. If it is set up properly it can have a big WOW factor. Make sure, when you apply, that you are not given a booth that is far from the main traffic. Remember that it is the job of show organizers to sell booth space but what they sell you may not necessarily be in your best interest.


4.) Inventory - You will have to judge how much inventory you will have to build. You don't want to run out nor do you want to be bringing a whole bunch of product home. Make sure that you have some lower priced items like ornaments for example. These are perfect for impulse buying and it is our experience that lower priced items always sell well. Spend time doing nice tags with the prices clearly marked.


5.) What Else - Tables, chairs, carry bags, business cards and other marketing material, calculator, debit machine/Visa machine, lighting. (Don't scrimp on lighting - you want to be able to show your art off.) Do a checklist and mark things off as they are packed. Don't forget water, snacks (protein bars/fruit), lunch. If you are busy you will not get away and not all shows have food at them.


Good luck Jeanette, let us know what you decide and how it is going. Shows can be very exciting and can be very profitable too!

"Other Stuff" 

Do you find that things happen in life and you are able to say "Just like in Seinfeld!" Well here is another one for the books. A mailman in Italy was discovered with a half-ton of mail stashed in his garage. He would have been an idol for Neuman in Seinfeld!

The Italian postal police said that 573 kilogram or 1260 pounds of mail was found in the Vicenza home of the 56 year old postman. He had been stashing it for 8 years and included utility bills, bank statements, old phone books and political propaganda mailings from the 2010 regional elections. Amazingly, he is not the only mail hoarder out there.

In 2014, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in New York City, a postal worker was charged with hiding more than 10 years worth of mail which resulted in about 40,000 pieces of mail. It was found in his work locker, his car and his home. All charges were later dismissed.

In North Carolina, 53 year old Gary Collins was arrested for holding back 1,800 letters and parcels and in 2015 a postal worker was charged with hoarding away 22,000 parcels.

So if you don't receive your bills this month call the company. It may be that they have been spirited away by some postal worker who would rather be at home having a postal nap rather than filling empty mailboxes.

Looking Ahead: June 2018 



This month you are in for a special treat. We are honoured to have with us featured artist Don Weeke. Don has been making baskets and working with gourds for 35 years. His work contains many different elements and that, combined with imagination and vision, makes Don's art truly extraordinary. Please welcome Don; this is an artist you are not going to want to miss. 


June will find us out in the garden tending our gourds. The plants are now well established and on their way and the next step is to make sure healthy pollination occurs. There will be a little pruning this month as well as an introduction into what pests may decide to enter your gourd world. In the meantime order those seeds and get them started soon.


Our usual trivia will provide some additional entertainment and of course there is the Music Pick. Send in your mail and photos as we do love to hear from you. So until we meet again, stay healthy and happy! See you soon...Lori Chalmers


PS If you have any stories, ideas or photos you would like to share send to


Volume 14, Number 129 


In this issue:

Grace Swanson: Nigerian Roots Emerge Through Gourd Art

The Bulletin Board: News From Northern Dipper

The Garden Arts: Gourd Growing In The Home Garden

Out of the Mailbag

Gourd Sightings, Trivia and More

  The Bulletin Board


 It's Time To Order     SEEDS! 

Get a start on spring with gourd  seeds from Northern Dipper. Fun and easy, gourds make an impressive statement when growing along a fence, up an arbor or along the ground.

Due to the short growing season in Canada and Northern United States it is advised to start your seeds early.

Why buy from Northern Dipper?

  • A broad variety of seeds are available.
  • Each variety is tested for germination and the rates are excellent.
  • There are 10 - 12 seeds per pack.
  • There is a flat shipping rate of $2.75 for up to 4 packs.
  • Growing tips are available on our website.

For more information click here:

 Grace Swanson


"At the time I fell in love with gourds, I was a watercolor artist. I sold many, many paintings through a couple of galleries in North San Diego County. For a while I sold a few pieces of gourd art in my watercolor booth when I did outdoor shows. The gourds soon began to take over. They were so much easier to sell than watercolors."

"At some point I just stopped painting and stopped exhibiting my paintings in the galleries. I have not painted now for over 8 years." 

Words of Advice For New Artists

1.) Set up a permanent place to do your artwork. If you have to drag out your tools & gourds every time you want to work the chances are you will probably put it off. You also need space in order to spread out. And a place for everything so you are not constantly searching for things.

2.) Take every single class you can find in your medium. Travel to find classes if necessary. If you can not find classes, watch every single YouTube video on your subject.

3.) Let some other stuff go so you have time to pursue your artwork. Focus on your art and if you travel a lot, figure out what aspects of your art you can take with you as you travel.

4.) Join a local art group or guild. Here you will meet others who speak your language. If you join a gallery this will give you time lines which you have to work under.

5.) Sell your work! There is no better motivator like making a sale.I am much more productive after a good show. Besides your artwork will start stacking up and you can only give so much away to friends and family.

6.) Get good. In other words, practice, practice, practice!

7.) If after a while you are not enjoying yourself just stop. There is something else you will enjoy. I have tried plein air, silk painting, pastels, oil, acrylics, mosaics and probably a lot more than that. I am glad I tried them but they did not give me joy. 

"I am quite involved in the art community. Here is a short list of some of the organizations I volunteer with:

1.) Publicity Chair for the San Diego Art Guild. I enjoy promoting the guild and gallery by email, PR releases, Facebook ads, flyers, posters, etc.

2.) Publicity Chair for the San Diego County Gourd Artists.

3.) Docent at the San Diego Botanic Gardens for 14 years where I do many different volunteer jobs. Right now I am on the Art Festival Commitee to help find artists to show at their yearly art show.

Here is another link of interest:

California Gourd Society


The Garden Arts

"The Seed" 

 The gourd seed has a tough outer coating. Before planting, it helps to soak them over night in order to soften them up. If you are growing different varieties use separate bowls when soaking.

Some growers like to clip the shoulders of the seed but if you take this route be careful. You do not want to disturb the seed itself. Following is a diagram of where it should be clipped.

"The Planting of the Seed"

Jiffy pots are the ideal pot to use for gourd seedlings. They are made from sphagnum peat moss and wood pulp and are 100% biodegradable. The best size is the 3" square as you will be planting 2 seeds per pot. 

On seed planting day fill up your Jiffy pots with a good light soil. Pro Mix works well. Do not use soil from your garden as it will be full of weed seeds and perhaps insects or disease too.

Plant 2 seeds per pot approximately 1/2" deep. Press the soil over the seeds and top up with Pro Mix/soil. Press down and water well. Place in a sunny window or heated greenhouse. 

Keep your seeds watered and warm. Gourd seeds can be slow  to germinate depending on the variety but once they start it will be like a green explosion.

"Hardening Off" 

A couple of weeks before planting outside place your seedlings out in a sunny sheltered spot. Do not let them dry out too much. Bring them in at night, especially if the temperatures are low. By the time planting day comes your seedlings will be just itching to get into the ground.

"Planting Day"

If you are using plastic cut a hole and dig a hole. No plastic - it is the same - dig a hole. If you used Jiffy pots there will be 2 seedlings per pot.

Rip the pot in half leaving the pot attached. Pop into the hole and press the soil down around the plant. Water well.

Note: After planting your seedlings are going to look wilted and sick. They go into shock but quickly recover.

Plant on a cloudy day if possible.

 Out Of The Mailbag


 Hi Lori, I have just started to make drums and am passing along a little tip I learned when working with rawhide lacing. Lacing is very stiff so soak it well before using.

The beauty of this lacing is that as it dries it shrinks so you will get a nice tight hold on that drum head resulting in a beautiful tone.

This versatile lacing can be used  not only on drums and rattles but as a functional embellishment when attaching handles to vessels. Love the newsletter!

Vanessa Flynn - MI

Gourd Sighting


These fine gourds were spotted at Home Goods store in Amherst, New York. Thanks Dana for sending this gourd sighting in.

It's A Dog's Life 

 Flynn the bichon frise was crowned Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show February 13, 2018. This show is the second-oldest continuously run sporting event in American history. The link I am providing has many links into various events so check them out. It is canine entertainment at its best.


 Music Pick of the Month

 On November 6, 2017 in the city of Montreal, a tribute to the great Leonard Cohen took place. It was arranged by Adam Cohen and was called the Tower of Song Tribute. Here is a small sampling of the artists that participated.

Adam Cohen and Damien Rice "The Partisan"

Damien Rice "Famous Blue Raincoat"

Elvis Costello "The Future"

To learn more about this tribute click here:


 Published by Pam Grossi Victoria, BC, V8R 2Z7

Northern Dipper 
Sault Ste. Marie
 Ontario, Canada 
By appointment only.

© Northern Dipper 2018. All rights reserved. No portion of this newsletter may be used in any form without prior written permission from the authors. 


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