In 1993, Joan Riise and Lenny (the Gourd Guy) Feldberg were 40 something newlywed artists when they moved into their first house (a classic Chicago bungalow) and decided to grow a garden of gourds. On a street of identical bungalows, each backyard afforded only a small, regimented garden roughly 20’ square. Not a lot of space but in Chicago one is grateful for any earth in which to grow. Naïve and optimistic Lenny prepared a space on the enclosed back porch to germinate, observe and tend the process.
In the B.G. era (before Ginger Summit) books on gourd growing were hard to find. Local garden centers and bookstores offered nothing. Lenny, an outdoor photographer, observed, took notes and in general worked in concert with the signals shared by Mother Nature, his muse. By early June of that year, he had seven sturdy seedlings ready for transplant. To compensate for the lack of ground space, he built trellises and before long a secret garden was growing rampantly! Dizzied by the phenomenal growth, Joan and Lenny became passionate missionaries of the vine asking and answering questions and sharing their story with just about anyone who would listen! During that long, hot summer through a Michigan artist, they discovered the American Gourd Society and traveled to Ohio for the World’s Largest Gourd Festival with their first abundant harvest still hanging on the vine.
As an artist, Joan taught the introspective craft of mask-making in classes throughout the Chicago area. Two years later, working with a women’s spirituality group, she brought a giant kettle gourd to pass in circle, symbolic of the womb of the Earth Mother herself. The study group was fascinated by the metaphor. Within the month they called to invite the possibility of engaging Joan and Lenny in a year-long process: growing gourds, drying them and coming together again the following spring with dried gourds in hand to create intentional womb prayer vessels. They had an acre of private garden space and thirteen women willing to commit their time, energy and focus to this endeavor with ancient, mystical roots. Prayers, poetry, artistry, song, ceremony, drumming and the first Goddess Gourd Festival in gratitude ensued.
“This Garden Grows a Goddess” is the new book written by Joan Riise, published by Ice Cube Press. It tells the story from Lenny’s planting of the first seven seeds in a tiny Chicago backyard through seven astonishing years as one garden and year evolved into another. The Goddess Gourd Festivals grew from the initial undertaking of 100 guests to several thousand attending the events at Prairie Crossing, America’s premier conservation community in Grayslake, Illinois. The book includes contributions of prose and poetry written by community garden members. For those interested in the purely horticultural, Lenny has written an excellent chapter at the end on the care and feeding of gourds. Photographs are included in abundance.
Any artist who has ever worked with gourds will attest to their irresistible magnetism. Any grower can wax fanatical. This book, a tribute to the garden and the experience, will appeal to both as well as to those just discovering the history, mystery and artistry of gourds. It is spiritual, earthy, artistic, practical, and a must-read for anyone from the simply curious to the veterans already convinced of the beauty, wonder and satisfaction of gourd growing.
*Joan and Lenny will be available
for book signings at both Ohio and Illinois Gourd Festivals. For ordering
info visit their web site at: happypages.com/goddessgourdbook.