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by Garrett McLees Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, PR & Marketing Intern

The theme for my blog posts this month has been October Oddities, the month-long display of odd and interesting items at the Children’s Garden.  Each Saturday in October, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. the Children’s Garden hosts Odd October-themed events. So far I have written about Gourd Quest and Weird Plant Lore. This weekend we’ve got fun planned both on Saturday AND Sunday.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned a pumpkin is actually considered a gourd, because they come from the the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae.   Saturday we will invite you to taste pumpkin tarts and we’ll have music by (regular Children’s Garden volunteer) Connor Wood and friends.  Children can get creative at the Investigation Station, making rock pumpkins. The featured book for Saturday is Pumpkin Circle – The Story of a Garden by George Levinson. The fun doesn’t end on Saturday though, join us on Sunday from 1 – 4 p.m for a very special October Oddities event, Goblins and Gourds.

Goblins and Gourds is the annual harvest celebration held here at the Garden.  We’ll have arts and crafts, more storytelling, and some really unique music — the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra (I’ll tell you more about them in a minute). For those seeking to express their creativity, a pumpkin carving demonstration with local craftsman Jerry Veneziano and paint pumpkins with Ashley, Miss Junior Teen Virginia International, who will also lead  the  parade at 2 p.m.  Sunday we also have  a Gourd Petting Zoo — you pet the gourds, not animals!

The festival will also include a visit from Shel Browder, a renowned storyteller from North Carolina. Browder has gone from listening to stories told by old men around the coal stove in his family’s hardware business to performing his storytelling on stage with world renowned storytellers in Colonial Williamsburg.

Over the years Arthur  Stephens and the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra have researched and created unique sounds with the instruments they craft from gourds. Just as Stephens has grown in his knowledge and understanding of creating gourd instruments,  the Orchestra itself has also grown over the years. The group consists of five members, using a variety of the 35 total instruments that they created. Stephens says sometimes  they plant a gourd seed with a specific instrument they want to create in mind. But other times they just see if the gourd  inspires them to create an instrument.

The very first instrument that Stephens created was a friction drum. The design of the drum originated in Turkey, where farmers used the sound it produces to scare wild pigs away from their crops. Stephens didn’t even know what a friction drum would sound like when he created it years ago. After much research and some trial and error, Arthur learned how to make the drum produce its odd sound. The gourd friction drum is still used today by the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra to perform their song “Wild Pigs” inspired by the history of this unique instrument.

Stephens’ advice for aspiring gourd instrumentalists is to take advantage of the books and resources that are available. When he started making gourd instruments, there were only a few books on the subject. Stephens learned from reading what he could, traveling to museums, and trial and error. Now there are a plethora of books and internet resources on the subject. After seeing the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra this weekend you may be inspired to create some gourd instruments of your own.

There will be much to see this weekend at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, from arts and crafts, to storytelling, to listening to the unique sounds of the Gourd Orchestra. We are expecting gourdeous fall weather this weekend, we hope you can spend it with us!

Here’s a movie we made last year on the event, so you can get a taste of it:

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