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2008-11-14 / Beauty in the Backyard

Are the kids out of their gourds?

By Jackie Perrone jacper@bellsouth.net

Freshly cleaned gourds drying. Freshly cleaned gourds drying. Are you smarter than a fifth- grader? Try this pop quiz:

1. What's the oldest crop grown by humans on our planet?

2. What plant is good for making utensils, canisters, kegs, masks, dippers, and birdhouses, to name a few?

3. What ancient tribes used a garden product as a canvas for their art work?

The 55 fifth- graders at Heathwood Hall know the answers after their visit last week from veteran gardener and gourd- aficianado Mitzi Davis.

"Gourds!" They've been grown for 30,000 years - even before there was plastic! And the ancient tribes? Inca, Aztec, and Mayan.

Every October, Mitzi Davis visits the fifth- graders at Heathwood Hall with a truckload of home- grown and hand- decorated gourds.

"They're fun to grow, and every gourd has a different personality!" is how she explains her fascination with this common garden product. "The only limit to what you can make from a gourd is the limit of your own imagination."

To prove her point, Mitzi shows off gourds with geometric designs, funny faces, and animal representations. She can put a huge mask over her head designed to be a cow or place a tiny gourd with a removable cap as a miniature bud- vase.

Sarah Stormer (l- r), Annie McLeod, and Cedrick Middleton. Sarah Stormer (l- r), Annie McLeod, and Cedrick Middleton. Mitzi Davis is an X- Ray technician in the office of Dr. Jay Markowitz in West Columbia. For 10 years this gardener- and- artist, has partnered with Heathwood Hall to enhance its curriculum. The school has enlisted several disciplines in the program.

Clare Scurry, art teacher, guides her students in painting and carving and finishing off the gourds according to their visions.

"It's a very satisfying expression of design. If a student is not good at drawing or pictures, the gourds can always be decorated with geometric designs such as triangles and circles. Anyone can do it," said Davis.

Jo Ann Brooks, humanities teacher, brings in the history of this ancient effort, where tribal symbols endure over the centuries. Creative writing impels each student to put together a fanciful story about gourds, modern or old.

Students model completed gourd masks. Students model completed gourd masks. Todd Beasley, science teacher, leads the way as the school grows its own supply of gourds with a built- in two- year time period for drying and curing them for future fifth- graders. Primitive people used gourds as containers for liquids and grain, as cups for sipping, and utensils for handling food.

Walker Comer (l) and Jordan Nwanagu check their plants. Walker Comer (l) and Jordan Nwanagu check their plants. A group of students work on their gourds. A group of students work on their gourds.

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