So What Do You Do With A Pumpkin?

pumpkins at Detroit Garden WorksRob has made 3 epic pumpkin and gourd buying trips in the past 3 weeks. Epic, as in 8 hour trips to pumpkin hybridizers within 80 miles or so in every direction of our shop. Epic, as in the relationships he has cultivated with growers who specialize in these fall fruits. I am sure the gross vehicle weight of the Sprinter loaded with pumpkins and gourds is equally epic. His vetting of pumpkins and gourds one could describe as rigorous. The pumpkins have to stand up on their own. They have to have long and beautifully shaped stems fresh from the picking. Many of those long stems are integral to the pumpkin body. They have great shapes. Unusual surfaces. Incredible color. Who knew there were  black or pale yellow or blue pumpkins? Considerable is the education I have had about pumpkins and gourds in recent years. They have colorful and descriptive names. Long Island Cheese. Knucklehead. Porcelain Doll. Many of them have already gone to gardening homes. Many more will snapped up this week, in advance of Halloween and in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

pumpkins at Detroit Garden WorksA  gardening customer came in today, her husband in tow. She and Sunne launched into a discussion about something or another. Her husband found a place to sit on a bench outdoors. Milo and I joined him.  Only moments later he asked me, so what do you do with these pumpkins? Hilarious, this. I burst out laughing. Indeed, what does one do with a pumpkin? To follow are my answers. As for the above picture, I would contrast a green and a white pumpkin, and shower them with green eucalyptus and some yellow fall leaves conveniently shed by a nearby linden tree.

Detroit Garden Works stand up for fall

Detroit Garden Works fill a wood box

Detroit Garden Worksmake a scene

Detroit Garden Worksplant a vintage bushel basket with a single grand white pumpkin, and face it down with white ornamental cabbage.

Detroit Garden Workshang it up

Detroit Garden Worksincorporate them into a fall container.

Detroit Garden Works go for the green

Detroit Garden Workscelebrate the season

Detroit Garden Workspile them up

fall-window-boxadd them to a fall themed window box

Detroit Garden Worksset the table

Detroit Garden WorksLine them out

Detroit Garden Worksfill the air space

Detroit Garden Worksspread them out

pumpkins-and-gourds-2013-38select a favorite

Detroit Garden Worksstack them up

Detroit Garden Worksbrighten up a dark spot

Halloween pumpkincarve them, of course

Detroit Garden Worksarrange them by color and texture

Detroit Garden Workscrate them

fall container arrangementgo for gourds

Detroit Garden Worksplump up a bench

Detroit Garden Workssort by size and color

Detroit Garden Worksload up a cart

Detroit Garden Worksset them on their sides

fall container with pumpkinsmake a statement

Detroit Garden Worksdress up an urn

Detroit Garden Workswarm up a porch

Detroit Garden WorksDoes this help?














The Hybridizer

hybrid pumpkinEvery  gardener at one time or another comes in contact with plant cultivars introduced as a result of the painstaking work of  someone who breeds plants. Bressingham gardens in England has a group of fine perennial plants marketed under the aegis of Blooms of Bressingham. There are countless other individuals who have devoted themselves to breeding towards a better plant.  Some hybrids are more disease resistant.  Some are more sturdy-others have larger flowers with interesting variations in color. The dogwood Venus, a cross between Cornus kousa, and Cornus nuttallii, was bred at Rutgers University by Elwin Orton.  His Venus dogwood, once it was introduced, took a gold medal at Chelsea.  Anyone who loves the landscape is all the better for the introduction of this tree.

hybrid pumpkinsI am thinking about hybridizing right now, as Rob has such a big love for the various forms and colors of pumpkins that he collects fruits from countless farms within a day’s drive of us. He cannot get enough of them.  Of course most pumpkins are grown to eat, or to carve for Halloween, but others are grown for their sheer beauty.  Every farmer who grows pumpkins is a hybridizer, whether they intend to be, or not.  Cucurbits are plants of the gourd family, and include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumber. All of these plants, grown within range of one another, will cross pollinate with abandon. Squash flowers are huge-they intend to have progeny.  And progeny they do produce. Any pollen on the wind might settle in these giant flowers. As a result, every farm who grows curcurbits has their own distinctive offering of pumpkins and gourds. These hybrid crosses are random.  Some are beautiful, sturdy, and robust.  Others-not so much.

hybrid pumpkinsRob has been fortunate to meet some gardeners in the course of his pumpkin collecting whose big love is hybridizing these big fruits.  You are looking at pictures of pumpkins that are the result of a lifetime of careful breeding. The gentleman in question is in his late sixties, and has been hybridizing pumpkins for decades. He grows his pumpkins in a tunnel house, so he can eliminate accidental crosses. Pumpkins and squash take up an enormous amount of space as they grow.  The breeding process is slow, as not so many crosses can be made in a given year. His crosses are thoughtful, and methodical.

pumpkins 2015 (9)His current crop of fancy pumpkins sit in a shed.  They are not displayed on his farm stand, as they are not for sale. They are part of his breeding stock.  He will harvest the seed, and breed again. The near black pumpkin in my first picture with a brilliant orange waist-I have never seen anything like it.  The black pumpkin in my second picture-astonishing.  I know squash with dark green rinds-I am a fan of acorn squash, and eat them regularly over the winter.  But this black pumpkin is like nothing I have ever seen.

pumpkins 2015 (8)Anyone who grows plants has at one time or another placed a plant in their garden whose form, color and texture is a result of years of breeding.  Endless crosses that amount to nothing.  A few crosses that have promise.  And perhaps a few plants in a lifetime that are worthy of introduction.

IMG_6456I am an old school gardener-I admit to that. I favor plants that look good all season, in leaf and in bloom.  I like plants that are vigorous, and hardy.  I love plants that ask little, and perform willingly.  I love those plants that verge on the weedy side.   I see some perennial and shrubby plants that have been introduced that seem unlikely to survive the test of time.  Should I have a landscape client who is interested in the garden, I make sure that what I select for their garden has a history of great performance.  Nothing discourages a gardener more than failure. Some plant breeding quits too soon-before there is a cultivar worthy of introduction.

pumpkins 2015 (22)Keeping plants alive, and keeping plants thriving, is a big job. I can be challenged by it, despite my many years as a gardener.  One of the most important aspects of landscape design to me is to do what I can to insure success for my clients. Success in a garden encourages interest.  I mean to encourage others to garden.  Great plant hybridizers do a lot of this work for me. They spend years and thought developing plants that gardeners can grow.

pumpkins 2015 (23)The man who hybridized that black pumpkin does not make a living from his fancy pumpkins.  He grows acres of orange pumpkins that get shipped nation wide.  His tall thin pumpkins that sit up on their own are especially good looking.  We sold out of our group within two days.

pumpkins 2015 (10)All of his pumpkins, squash, and gourds have great color.  Many of them sport what we call witches warts. Rob loves the bumps.

IMG_5933But even his most simple pumpkins feature strong stems. The long stems are part and parcel of a fall fruit that delights the eye, and speaks to the harvest. I never knew how beautiful a pumpkin stem could be, until I saw his pumpkins.  Rob is a looker.  When he sees something that makes him look twice, he does what he can to foster a relationship. The pumpkins we have at Detroit Garden Works right now are all about the thoughtful work of a hybridizer with many years in the game. We so value his contribution to every garden.  And every front porch in the fall season.

pumpkin stemIf you are like me, you have wrongly picked up a pumpkin by its stem, and had that stem detach. Dang. I will confess that I have hot melt glued broken stems on to a pumpkin.  No pumpkin stem can stay intact, given the weight of most pumpkins. But for our current pumpkin collection. We have a breeder who means to meld the stem with the body of the fruit.

pumpkin stemImagine a hybridizer whose goal is to develop stems that come down onto the fruit.  Gripping stems. A stem which is integral with the fruit. What hybridizers imagine and breed for-so simple, but so important. A garden does imply a generous grip.  Some of that comes from plant breeders.  Some of that comes from us. The mix is a really good one.


Early Fall

saturated (6)The beginning of the fall season is a beginning to treasure.  All of the hard work growing from the spring through the summer of  comes to fruition. Literally. The tomatoes ripen. The farmers market is bursting with racks of brussel sprouts, giant rosettes of cabbage, and fresh and fragrant onions. Home vegetable gardens yields such that there is plenty for  neighbors and friends. The spring planted perennials have put on a lot of weight. The trees planted in the spring seem to have weathered the transplant shock, and look happier – more settled and comfortable. The memory of insults dealt to the landscape and garden from the hard winter past fade. No need now to remember them.   The beginning of fall can be the last chapter of a very good short story, or the last quarter mile of a long and exhausting run. Or both. There is a good amount of time before the fall sinks and sets in, to enjoy the fruits.

saturated (11)Fall is a favorite season for Rob.  He endures the heat of the summer.  Every plant gets watered as it should.  He good naturedly tolerates the glare.  Once the season begins to shift to fall, he is energized.  He is back and forth across every square inch of the shop, making changes appropriate to the season. Materials he has ordered for the fall season at the shop months ago arrive every day. Much to my delight, he tracks back and forth across a 100 mile radius from the shop, selecting pumpkins and gourds for his fall collection.

saturated (8)There are those gardeners who collect day lilies, or hostas.  Or perhaps they focus on wild flowers, or native plants.  Some love all manner of hardy ornamental grasses.  Some nurture their collection of African violets, or Japanese maples.  There are the rosarians, who keep the interest in great garden roses alive. When I had five acres of land, I lined out peonies in rows, like crops. The alpine plants, the lilies, the dahlias-every plant has a coterie of aficionados. The fans of gourds and the pumpkins are many. Illinois is the nation’s largest producer of pumpkins-over 12,000 acres of crop land are devoted to growing them. Though dwarfed by the Illinois production, Michigan is still the second largest producer of pumpkins and gourds. Though many carve the traditional orange pumpkin for Halloween, or use the pulp for pies, there are those who appreciate the sculptural shapes and colors.

saturated (12)About that color. My favorite part of the fall is how the low light saturates the color of everything it touches.  In summer, the sun high in the sky interrogates everything it touches. Sunny summer days are bright, and shadowless. The slanted and softer fall light brings saturated color back into the landscape. I suspect that Rob’s enchantment with the pumpkins and gourds is as much about color as the forms, textures and shapes. Fall color is term every gardener is familiar with. The leaves turning means a landscape ablaze in yellow, orange, red and purple.  An overcast summer day in a garden means any color will more intense. Never is any color in the garden more intensely representing than in the fall. The light from the sun highlights every plant from the side.  The fall garden appears as though it were on fire.

saturated (14)Every pumpkin or gourd that Rob chooses for his collection at the store has a story about color, texture, and shape behind it.  He will not buy any fall fruit that cannot stand up on its own.  He treasures the stem every bit as much as the fruit. He is as great with subtle fall color as he is with those those colors that blaze away. He probably has other criteria I am not aware of. Rob curates his collection. Every pumpkin and gourd could stand alone, and look great.  A grouping is a pleasure to be enjoyed throughout the fall.

saturated (19)The low fall light reveals texture in a spectacular way. This week was my first look at peanut pumpkins.

saturated (13)Equally astonishing is Rob’s collection of long stemmed pumpkins. He knows a grower who has been hybridizing pumpkins for 55 years. A long stem was a trait he sought. This was a friendship that has taken years to establish. Rob will visit him multiple times in late September.

saturated (22) I am so enjoying this warm late September sun.

aaaat the shop

pastel pumpkinspastel pumpkins


saturated (10)red, white, and wood

saturated (18)a saturated experience of orange

saturated (16)contrast

saturated (2)so orange, and so green.

saturated (3)red and white

pumpkins and gourdspumpkins and gourds

saturated (15)fall light

saturated (7)Last, but certainly not least, those big stems that come with pumpkins attached.

Earthbound Farms

Rob took 5 days off last week to take a little holiday in California.  Every holiday for him is at least partly a busman’s holiday. A busman’s holiday?  This refers to people who do much the same sort of thing on their vacation that they do at work.  The reference speaks particularly to a bus driver who takes a driving holiday-as opposed to a stay put on the beach holiday, or a cruise holiday, or a skiing holiday.  Rob on vacation-he is gardening.  He does a great job of putting his eye to the gardening news, no matter where he is.  

So I get a look via his photographs of the fruit stand owned and operated by Earthbound Farms.  The same day I am writing about how a long twisted stem is an element that could make a pumpkin spooky, he is checking out the fall harvest of California grown pumpkins and gourds that have long beautifully twisted stems.  He tells me given his visit to California,  that fall pumpkins are beautifully defined by what is preserved of their vines and stems.       

Via Wikipedia, I learn that Earthbound Farms is the largest grower of organic produce in the United States.  150 farmers cultivate some 30,000 acres of land.  The well known writer Michael Pollan refers to Earthbound Farms as ” a company that arguably represents industrial scale organic gardening at its best.”  No wonder Rob was interested in their side of the road fruit stand.  He saw varieties of pumpkins with which he was unfamiliar.   

He was very keen about the arrangement of the stand.  Pumpkins of different varieties were heaped high by variety on the ground.  As much as I love an ordinary pumpkin representing orange in October, I am interested in all of those other less common varieties.  Like any other gardener, I willing to experience variation.  Whether I am looking at plants or produce, I like the opportunity to know a name or origin.  The best of all-a plant, an idea, a design, an arrangement, a move, and a story that goes with.    

I have seen the pumpkin Jarradale before-I just never knew its name.  The story of this pumpkin variety I need to absorb.  I will confess that I am surprised that Rob found pumpkins for sale in California.  This surprise represents an illiteracy of a regional sort.  How could fall pumpkins ripen in such a climate?  I know-what an ignorant idea.  I must have believed that the fall harvest is specific to the midwest.  OK, I need to attend a fall 101 course in the fruits of the harvest.  My photo visit to Earthbound Farms courtesy of Rob-eye opening. 

I loved the crate and iron chairs with grass cushions-what an inspired gesture. 

The left long stems on these pie pumpkins were perfect to hook over a wire spanning the length of the fascia board of the fruit stand building.  The same pumpkins line the railing.  The display would have encouraged me to take everything home that I could. 

I find it very interesting that every farm, nursery, or stand at market I frequent features gourds distinctively all their own.  Each grower decides what seed to buy; every result is different.  This is one of the simple pleasures of being a gardener. The element of surprise, mixed with a big dose of individuality.  The need to imagine, choose, grow, and shop-and work like crazy, yes.  This describes farmers and gardeners alike.   

Should you garden near me,  the fruit stand of Earthbound Farms is not available for a quick visit.  No harm here-we have plenty of local growers who do a great job.  I make it my business to patronize them, as I want them to be successful.  The efforts of our farming community are never so clear than they are at this time of year.  Whether you live in Michigan, California, New York, or Louisiana-it is harvest time.  My advice?  Load up, locally, whatever you can.