Who hasn’t tried to imagine the witch’s house from the fairy tale? The friendly yellow house in Bückeburg, Lower Saxony, has little of that, but the garden can make you think. Bottle gourds hang in long rows to dry, on trellises, under the roof overhang – in all sizes, shapes and colors.

The first impression: a witch’s workshop? That’s right, there is a workshop too; There, Virginia Lauterbach works on dried and hollowed calabashes – and makes lamps out of them. The 46-year-old has a special relationship with the gourds: “They are girls to me.”

For the self-employed lamp artist, calabashes are a matter of the heart and the purpose of life – even if she wouldn’t want to feed a family with them. “I have become very creative and feel like an artist,” she says. She uses small drills to work on the dried pumpkins, which are as hard as wood. Many small holes create patterns and images, often animals, preferably cats – because: “Cats always walk.”

Painting with light

When light falls through the holes in the hard shell of the calabashes, the patterns and images appear on the wall: “Where others paint, I drill and throw patterns on the wall. You can do a lot, but my passion is drilling.” What sounds strange at first immediately makes sense when you see the lamps, their warm and atmospheric light. “They don’t illuminate a work area, but rather create a mood,” emphasizes the 46-year-old. And speak for themselves.

But first things first: It all started because she wanted to provide herself with fruit and vegetables, says Lauterbach. Then she saw calabashes for the first time and thought: they wouldn’t be bad as a bird house or nesting hole for squirrels. The pumpkins aren’t poisonous, but they’re not exactly a delicacy either: “They’re not on my menu.” The first attempt seemed to fail; the pumpkins looked moldy as they dried and ended up in the compost heap, she remembers. But the next spring they were hard as wood. Then she knew: it worked. In 2019 she founded her calabash factory and produces up to 60 lamps a year.

Bottle gourds on 2500 square meters

Today she harvests several hundred bottle gourds every year from an area of ​​around 2,500 square meters in her own garden. 30 to 40 percent don’t make it and become moldy, the rest is dried on the trellises and wherever there is space. Hobby gardeners who try their hand at bottle gourds also have to guard against the long tendrils that threaten to overgrow everything and take over the rest of the garden, as Lauterbach advises.

Once the fruit has dried, it’s her husband’s turn first. Klaus-Peter Lauterbach (61), actually a police officer, cleans the outside of the pumpkins with steel wool and water, then he drills open the fruits and takes out the remains of the dried pulp, so that only the hard, woody shell remains – “best at Daylight,” he says. He prefers to leave the artistic work to his wife: “Even though I have such delicate hands,” he says self-ironic.

Template is the hardest

The 46-year-old has countless drills and small drills in her workshop for the delicate parts. The drilling takes place at high speeds, but because the material is as hard as oak, she has to be careful – and change the drill in good time if it gets too hot. Some tools she only needs once a year, but drills every day.

She is currently working on an African lamp with animal motifs and shadows – like a sunset in the savannah. Sometimes the animals are painted black or red, sometimes she uses colorful beads. She has also drilled killer whale motifs – or kiwis. The most difficult thing is to develop a template in such a way that the light shining from the bulbous lamp on the wall creates a realistic image of the motif.

Pumpkins are trending in agriculture

Remarkable: The bottle gourd probably plays no role in agriculture. At least in this country. Things are completely different in Asia, especially in India. According to the Lower Saxony rural population, it is unclear whether bottle gourds are grown on a large scale – even the experts from the German Farmers’ Association cannot assess this. But pumpkins themselves are trendy, says a spokeswoman for the rural people. Last year, pumpkins were grown on an area of ​​493 hectares in Lower Saxony alone – 3.8 percent more than in 2022. It is unclear whether these included decorative or Halloween pumpkins. According to the Chamber of Agriculture, the transitions are probably “fluent”.

None of this is a problem for Lauterbach, she grows the plants herself and is therefore only dependent on her own harvest. To do this, it collects up to 20,000 liters of rainwater every year. But even if the harvest turns out to be bad: “My supplies are well stocked.” She sells the lamps nationwide, even to Australia and Canada. She wants to show her works at open days on October 3rd and 4th.

If that’s not enough for you and if you want to try out building a lamp out of a calabash yourself, there’s even a complete do-it-yourself set – from the blank to the drill.

Instructions for building a lamp from a bottle gourd calabash factory