Well it’s Halloween. The house and garden are full of gaudy decorations. Bats, ghosts, cats, witches, the whole caboodle.
It is almost too obvious to discuss all things spooky among plants. If I didn’t though then I would be missing a trick and you’d of course be missing a treat! Yeah ok I’ll admit I worked on that longer than I’d care to admit.
Pumpkins and gourds
Thanks to American influence in our culture we now associate this time of year with sweets, parties, costumes and of course pumpkins and gourds.
I was only born in the 1990s so I’m one of those whom innately makes this connection too.
Plenty of older relatives and friends revel in telling me: “Back in my day it was a neep and it was much harder work carving them!”
Over at Beechgrove Garden we have grown many spooktacular fruits for carving and ghoulish displays.
Asides from the good old neeps outside, we had great success with growing ornamental gourds in the polytunnel.
The ornamental mixed gourds were the stuff of nightmares with their gruesome nobbly orange skin.
The pear bi-coloured gourds on the other hand were much cuter. The fruits had gorgeous patterned white striping upon their smooth yellow skin with variable little green bottoms.
Black Futsu pumpkin
In the polytunnel next door we’ve grown a gorgeous Japanese heirloom variety of pumpkin called Black Futsu as recommended by Kirsty Wilson.
The heavily-ribbed fruits are dark green to the point of being black. Once mature they turn dusky grey and eventually dusky orange.
They are truly beautiful and apparently have treacly, sweet potato taste when roasted.
Much like today, pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) were historically hollowed and carved into scary faces.
The face was then lit up with a candle. This was placed at the entrance to home in order to drive evil spirits away, thought to be most prevalent on all hallows eve.
Pumpkins symbolised protection and fertility. Many other pieces of historic plant lore exist around this ghoulishly grand time of year.
Witches were thought to prefer to make their broom from common cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens).
Traditionally witches favoured wands of elder, beech and cypress. Druids however preferred those made of hazel, poplar and ash.
In fact, wands all represented the characteristics of an individual depending on the wood they chose.
Ash meant reverence; beech = achievement; cypress = death; elder = power; hazel = good fortune; hickory = endurance; maple = healing and energy; oak = consciousness; pine = new beginnings; poplar = protection; willow = deter evil.
It was tradition once upon a time on Halloween for each family member to place an ivy leaf marked with their name into water overnight.
If in the morning the leaf with your name was curled then it represented the coffin and meant death was imminent.
On a cheerier note; a group would throw a chestnut into the fire. The first one to have theirs shoot back out was the first to be wed.
On a similar theme, if you pulled a stalk of oats then the number of grains is the number of children you’d have.
Famously, if you caught a falling leaf on Halloween then you’d be granted a wish.
Lastly, you sowed a hemp seed and asked aloud to reveal your true love. The first person you saw after germination was that true love!
Speaking of sowing, well I won’t lie I absolutely love growing pumpkins and gourds. Eating them though? I’m not so keen.
I always find them overly sweet but people say: “Ahhh pumpkin pie is lovely when you bake it in a pie with spices and put whipped double cream on it.”
Practically anything will be edible baked in a pie with spices and drowned cream!
None the less, the thrill of growing these beauties is enough for me. I enjoy starting them from seed and raising them and caring for them.
Once they hit a certain size: BOOM! They rocket off like nobody’s business and grow like triffids!
It is also fun hand-pollinating them and watching the fruit swell and ripen up. Halloween for me is all about decorating.
Some people love it as an excuse to dress up (I’m also one). Some people love it as an excuse to party (I’m also, also one). Some people love it as an excuse to trick or treat (I’m also, also, also one).
Fundamentally though I find it hugely fun to put up all the Halloween decorations and lights in the house and most of all, to carve the pumpkin (and/or neep if the elders are also over).
OK fine I love it all! I’m away to throw my batman costume on.
Take care and spoooooky gardening!