Her lawn art soars to new pink heights

Jackie Rhoades didn't know what to do with the dozens of speckled swan gourds she had grown. Then an idea took wing.

Amateur artist Jackie Rhoades didn't know what to do with the dozens of speckled gourds she'd grown last year. Then, in the middle of the night, she woke up with a brilliant idea: She would turn them into pink flamingos.

Since then, a whole family of pink flamingo gourds have taken up residence among the hydrangeas, lilies, and Japanese anemones that grow beneath the shade of a huge oak in Ms. Rhoades's rural northern California barnyard.

Another trio of flamingos resides in a rose arbor next to a brightly painted - flamingo pink, of course - plastic chair. Even the flowers on the climbing rose are pink.

Call it silly, even campy, but the flamingos make visitors smile. "People driving by stop and stare," says Rhoades. "The [decorated] gourds look just like a family of flamingos stopping by for a visit. Each one is a different size or shape; each has a different look in their eyes. They really come alive. You can really imagine them talking to each other."

When her inspiration hit, Rhoades was in the middle of decorating small bottle gourds. "I had almost 80 gourds painted in primary colors in the living room," she says. "I had the speckled swan gourds in the garden, and at the same time, plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments were becoming popular again. The idea just came to me. It seemed so obvious."

Want to make a flock of your own? Rhoades insists that the project is easy.

Gourds need a long growing season, about 120 days, so it's important to plant the seeds as soon as danger of frost is past. Grow the speckled swan gourds on the ground, not on a fence or trellis, Rhoades advises, since those grown on a fence tend to have straight necks rather than curved. (The weight of the gourd causes this.)

Each plant yields three to five gourds. Let them dry completely on the vine, until you can hear the seeds rattle and the gourd feels light. Next, wash and scrub the outside.

Rhoades then applies a coat of primer to each gourd. Next, she adds paint, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before the next one is applied.

When Rhoades designed her birds, she used bright, flamingo-colored spray paint on most of the gourds. Then she painted on the eyes and the beak.

To make each flamingo stand up in the garden, she drilled a hole in a small piece of wood, glued the wood to the base of the flamingo, and then inserted a dowel in the hole. Finally, she sank small pieces of plastic pipe into the ground and placed the "leg" in the pipe. This allows her to take the gourds indoors for the winter.

Rhoades's flamingos are just over a year old. People constantly ask if they can buy them, or if she'll ever make some to sell at craft shows. She declines, telling people, "It's one of those projects you just have to do for yourself. The journey is part of the enjoyment."

Rhoades already has a plan for this year's crop of speckled swan gourds: They will become black swans. In fact, a family of five sits on the picnic table, waiting for their spot in the garden. And friends are already asking if she'll be selling any of them.

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