Every few years I grow a new crop of birdhouses.  In this post I will show you how to preserve birdhouse gourds and fix them up,  so that they can be used for birdhouses.  All you have to do is plant some seeds at the beginning and decorate them at the end.  I’ll guide you through the middle.

First: DO NOT pick them now. They must stay on the vine through the winter, until they are brown and ugly.  They will rot if you pick them while they are pretty and green. This is called seasoning.  Mother nature does this part.

Green Gourd. Do not pick.
Green Gourd. Do not pick.

Second: In the spring, I soak my ugly brown gourds in a giant tub that looks like a witch’s cauldron. That makes this messy part more fun. I mix in about one part bleach to about ten parts water. The bleach kills and mold and bacteria on them. They float, so you have to put a big board on top with of the cauldron with some weight on it to keep them submerged. I let them soak all day and then scrub them with a fiber-bristle brush to remove the skin and debris.

DO NOT let them soak more than twenty-four hours. They will turn to mush.  Let them dry several days to harden again.

Ho, Ho, Ho, Yes Sirree; little brown gourd how I love thee.

Third: Remove the seeds. I use my 1-and-1/4 inch  drill bit to drill the door for the bird. I pull the seeds out this same hole. I keep a hooked piece of strong wire for pulling out seeds and for pulling the hanger wire through later. I also find landscaping stakes handy for scraping out the seeds and tissue within the gourd.

Weeds Trophy 019 Weeds Trophy 020 Weeds Trophy 021

Scrapers and stakes and snaked hooks
Scrapers and stakes and snaked hooks

Years ago I made the mistake of dumping out all my seeds after doing this. The smart little squirrels remembered those tasty seeds the next year and ate my gourds. So, do not share the seeds with your local, furry friends.

I have put mesh bags(like for lemons or onions) around the gourds to discourage the squirrels. One year I did not have enough bags, so I tried pantyhose.  What a mess!  Don’t try that at home.

Fourth: Drill one small hole at the top of the neck near the stalk for your hanging wire. Also,  drill four or five small holes through the bottom for ventilation or in case water happens to get in. Baby song birds cannot swim, you know.

Fifth: Take a sturdy wire about two and a half feet long and push it down through the top hole until you can see it by looking through the door. Then use that same hooked piece of wire that you used to remove seeds to pull the end of the long wire out through the hole. Bend the end of the wire to make a loop and then pull the loop back into the gourd using the top of the wire.

Pull firmly but carefully to get the loop back in the gourd and up into the neck of the gourd.  If you pull the wire too hard and break off the neck, you can make a nice bowl with the gourd you just mutilated. This wire is how you hang up the birdhouse. We swirl our wire around a one-inch dowel rod to make it look like a tendril.

Finish: I prime mine with a neutral color. Then paint them with exterior paint. We stick large sticks or dowel rods through an upside down crate for painting and drying. Hang the gourd by putting the “door” over the rod.

Gourd on a stick.
Gourd on a stick.
Primed and ready for fun.
Primed and ready for fun.

Then use your imagination to decorate your birdhouse. Let the gourd speak to you. The shapes will vary, so each one will have its own personality.


They will last longer if you also spray them with clear acrylic.  We also jazz them up by adding beads onto the hanging wire.

Moon and Stars Gourd
Moon and Stars Gourd
Fiesta Gourd
Fiesta Gourd

My daughter paints these and adds the beads. She likes to name them.


Follow the Flower!


Last month my family spent three days down in South Carolina desperately searching for a nice place for my son to live.

Although I was intently hunting down a suitable dwelling, I did manage to stumble upon the vine of my dreams and snag some seeds.

I have been known to return from trips with acorns in my pockets and seeds in my wallet, but I did get permission this time.

The lovely vine was in that charming little town, Cheraw.  When I mention this town’s name to my North Carolina neighbors they recall passing through there on the way to the beach. You may recognize this building at the main square.

rabbits,Cheraw, Portland, Blog 1139

You folks need to stop in this town to stretch your legs from now on. It is a southern delight of lovely flowers, tasty food and nice people. We felt like old friends everywhere we went. I am a happy mama that my son is surrounded by good folks.

I took a picture of the vine of my dreams with my phone and rushed to the nearest open business, which happened to be the aforementioned, “Charmed by Cheraw” Chamber of Commerce.  This is where we found all the help we all needed.

The nice woman there handled my vine emergency while the nice man assisted my son with his housing emergency. She picked up the phone and called the garden club that plants the planters around town.

A member of the Cheraw Garden Club shared the name of the vine and gave me permission to purloin a few ripened pods containing seeds. A card had actually been attached with plant  information to the trellis, but it had fallen down. These are my kind of people!

Card posted with information attached to the vine.
Card posted with information attached to the vine.

So here it is my fellow garden enthusiaists.  The vine of my dreams in the phloem.

New vine. I am in love!
Cardiospermum helicacabum

It looks like a party on a trellis doesn’t it? It’s the combination of tiny white flowers and pods of various colors that reminds me of confetti.  It’s hither and slither growth adds to the explosion effect. What a happy little plant!

The species name is Cardiosperma helicacabum.  My guess is that the genus name refers to the black seeds that have a tiny white heart on each one. They look like love beads.


The real punch in the line is the common name, Love in a Puff.  I am not making this up folks.

Before you rush to order it from Burpee,  I must alert my southern readers that my research warns that Cardiospermum  halicacabum may be an invasive, self-seeding annual in Southern zones of 6 and up.

I also read that this delightful plant has been around for two hundred years. Why am I just now finding out about it? Well the secret is out now!

I intend to handle my little seedlings with the same care as I have my other potential renegades… in a pot.

I’ll be sharing my progress with seed germination in April.  I do have quite a few seeds collected…legally of course.


Charmed by Cheraw

My son recently started his career in a lovely town in South Carolina. We spent days trying to find a place for him to rent. It was a moving emergency, but we were determined to find a nice place with a short commute.

Historic Library
Tiny former law office.

Our family spent the better part of three days going to every realtor in the area. I was amazed at how helpful everyone was and how they all seemed to network to help this young new-comer find a home.

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We hit gold when we walked in to the Chamber of Commerce Office.  Rebecca and Roger made phone calls and listed potential renters on paper for us.  Roger even lead us in his car to a potential home and then on a quick tour through a beautiful,  historic neighborhood.

Every person we met, from the servers at the local restaurants(The Shed = yum) to the realtors, acted as ambassadors for their town. I expect great things from Cheraw. I am thinking of buying my son a futon for a gift, so that I can spend more time there.

Now that I have told you about the people in town, let’s see their beautiful plants and venues.

rabbits,Cheraw, Portland, Blog 1140 rabbits,Cheraw, Portland, Blog 1139 rabbits,Cheraw, Portland, Blog 1098rabbits,Cheraw, Portland, Blog 1152

The real thrill for me was finding a “new” vine.

The Cheraw Garden Club plants the planters around town. In one of these was the most beautiful little vine with puffy pods. I took a photo and asked Rebecca about it. She contacted the Garden Club and found the name and sent me a link about it.  Later,  I learned that there was a little card of information on the trellis that had fallen down. These are my kind of people.

One of the generous club members, either Judy or Cheryl,  learned of my blog and enthusiasm for the vine and gave me permission to take home a few pods. I love these folks!!!!!

STAY TUNED for my next post about the mystery vine.

New vine. I am in love!
New vine. I am in love!

Until then, here are some photos of the unusual plants that were in the planters around town.

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Follow the Flower!

Jack-o-Lantern Plant

I visited the lovely North Carolina mountains this week to enjoy the fall leaf colors.

Fall leaves in NC.
Fall leaves in NC.

The weather was perfect. The colors were beautiful. We drove over the Linn Cove Viaduct and saw Grandfather Mountain.


While we were there, one of my parents’ neighbors, Glenda, brought over some cuttings of a plant in her yard.

She wanted to share it with us. She said it was a plant that she had gotten from her aunt.

She called it a Jack-o-Lantern plant. It was the perfect name for these fascinating papery pods.

They are bright orange and resemble Chinese lanterns.

Physalis alkekengi
Physalis alkekengi

The outer husk of the pod is papery with and inner fruit that resembles a tiny orange tomato.

Fruit with the husk pulled back.
Fruit with the husk pulled back.

When you smash the fruit, the inside is sticky with small yellow seeds.

Tiny yellow seeds.
Smashed fruit with tiny yellow seeds.

Other names are Japanese lanterns, Chinese lanterns, winter cherry or bladder cherry.

This herbaceous perennial has white flowers called “Hozuki. ” (I have not seen these yet.)

The calyx around the bloom matures into the lovely orange lantern.

Glenda said this plant’s roots like to spread out, so I will keep it in a contained location.

I am so happy to have such an unusual plant to add to my garden.

I went to a garden shop on the way home. To my surprise, it offered artificial “lantern plants” for arrangements.

artificial latern plants
artificial lantern plants

I felt really pleased to have “the real thing” in the back of my car.

Follow the Flower.

Countdown to 32

All gardeners are busy in the spring.  Perennial gardeners also experience a frenzy in the fall when the first freeze is predicted. That for me, in my part of North Carolina, is early next week.

So for two days I have been furiously washing, watering, cutting and digging. This is crunch time. Any non-hardy, precious perennial left out to freeze may perish.

I have dozens of potted plants. These have to be moved in. Some stay upstairs and continue to look great. Others go to my basement workshop. Some of these basement-dwellers sit in the windows and continue to grow. Others are put away from the windows to go into their winter rest/dormancy period.

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Then there are the plants in my son’s Koi pond, my husband’s banana trees and my daughter’s collection of avocado trees. I try not to get involved with these, but I usually need to assist.  I have a dozen cute little key lime trees that I bring in for safe-keeping. I have planted some out in the garden this fall, but fear they will not survive.

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I have thousands of plants in my gardens.  Some of these need to be dug up and stored in various ways. You must know when to dig and how to store them.

Then there is the matter of seed collection. I am guilty of doing this at the last minute. Seeds must be dried and stored properly or you will have bags of mold in the spring.

These tips may be too late for my northern friends, but you southern gardeners need to get busy. Let’s start with plants  growing in the garden.

Pineapple Lilies/Eucomis: Dig before frost, leave some soil on the bulbs, cut off the bloom stalk(save some seeds) slow down watering and allow to go dormant.

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Elephant Ears: Let the stalks die back in a freeze, then cut off the limp and gooey stalks and bring in the “bulb.”

I usually cheat and cut some ears off each before the freeze so there are fewer mushy stems to deal with.

IMG_6293 IMG_6292 IMG_6279

Dahlias: Let the freeze “wilt” the leaves, then bring the bulbs in and store bulbs in vermiculite.

Hmmm.  Looks like we have some stow-aways on the purple dahlias!IMG_6253 IMG_6255 IMG_6271

Gladiolas: Lift before the freeze, but leave the leaves attached. Cut back after they turn brown. Sometimes I leave the old fashioned glads out and gamble, but my Orchid glads (Acidanthera) are coming in.

Morning Light 077

Japanese Sacred Lilies: I bring some of these in just in case we have a harsh winter. Since they are good luck, I figure losing them would be bad luck.


Fairy/Rain Lilies: These are planted in pots with other plants. The sweet things bloom during the winter.

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Now, let’s talk house plants.  You should NOT wait until the night of the freeze to rush these in to warmth and safety.  If you do, you may bring in some unwanted guests with them. Earwigs, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, ants, earthworms and even lizards like to take up residence in the plants and in the soil.


You must encourage these little critters to move out before moving the pots inside. I remove all saucers from beneath the pots and generously flood each pot with water several times. I have found critters and eggs hidden in the saucers and in the holes of the pots. I do prevent larger fauna from entering pots from the bottom by covering the drainage holes with plastic needle-point mesh from the craft store.

Check plants themselves for nests and parasites. I love baby praying mantises, but I don’t want several hundred skittering around in my library. The same goes for baby spiders.


If a house plant has gotten too big over the summer, I cut it back and root the cuttings.  These include hibiscus plants and vines.  It’s a great way to keep a favorite plant going and being able to share it with friends.


So get busy my southern gardening friends. The countdown has started.

Follow the FLOWER.   Hurry.

Know the Name

I am a gardener, but I’m also a biologist.
Because of this,I want to know the name of the plants I find.
If you have ever used a dicotomous key. You know that you can answer one question wrong in the series of many questions and end up with the wrong class and family name. This means you have to start all over again to find the actual species name.
In other words, you can’t get there from here.

Manual of Vascular Flora of the Carolinas
Manual of Vascular Flora of the Carolinas

I have a dicotomous key for plants in the Carolinas that is rather large. I have used it quite a bit over the years. There are also keys on-line associated with universities or companies that can be used. I struggle with these when I have to back-track.

There’s a new way to help find the name of a flower. It’s an app called Like That Garden. I have this on my phone.


I have tested it out on plants at home that I know. You take a picture of the flower. The app scans the photo and comes up with a list of possible names and photos of those choices.  I think color is the main searching factor because several times a totally different shape of flower would appear as a choice, but the color was true to my mystery flower.

You then confirm that the apps’ picture is a match and it stores your pictures and location along with its data. I used this app to identify two wildflowers in Volterra, Italy.  Now my data is part of the information bank.



The app keeps track of the plants I have identified in my phone with the date and their location.


If you are like me in needing to know plant names, you will love this app. It has a huge bank of photos at your fingertips. You won’t need a ruler or to know the leaf venation nor arrangement. You just need to find a match for your photo. I even took a photo of a flower on my computer screen to see if it could identify it.

It’s like having a new toy.

Follow The Flower

Fresh Flowers for Sale in Italy

I have been reminded of a book about the flower industry this week
I have photographed many flower shops.
The book is Flower Confidential.
I will be doing a post about it soon.
Here is a glimpse at some high-end offerings available to city-dwellers who need their “flower fix.”








These lovely flowers are like living jewels.

Follow la Flower.  I have been Italicized!!!!!