Search Results for: halloween

More Fun Than I Bargained For

carving-pumpkins.jpgI will confess that I look forward to Halloween. Though it is first and foremost a low budget fright night celebrating demons, devils, and the walking dead, it is also a garden party.  The worst horror for me-after the harvest, the garden season is done until next year.  Halloween, by contrast, is an angst free celebration of the coming of the dark time.  Though no childhood celebration of Halloween of mine was complete without carved and lighted pumpkins, every year I consider foregoing this ritual.  The pumpkins are incredibly heavy.  Gutting them is a messy and slimy affair.  The carving takes more time than you think.  No one lights pumpkins for a week or two-it is a one night delight.  Are you in?

carved-pumpkin.jpgYes, every year I relent.  I carve pumpkins.   Prielipp Farms at my local farmer’s market has someone load my choice of carving pumpkins into my car-they are really swell about this.  Rob carts them from the suburban to my workroom.  There they are, looking at me.  My carved pumpkins come last-after I carve them for clients. So they day before Halloween, I have 6 pumpkins to carve.

carved-pumpkins.jpgI have no use for patterns.  What fun is that, to follow a pattern that someone else has imagined? I make a few marks on the surface with a marker, and get cutting.  Every pumpkin carving evolves from the first cut to the finish.  Like most other garden projects, one move suggest another.  A big idea sketched out, a plan for the placement of walkways, porches and trees will eventually come down to the closing details.  Once a carving begins, all those other issues clamoring for my attention fade away. It’s just me, a vague idea, and a knife.

carved-pumpkin.jpgThis pumpkin carving began with a drill-and ends up looking like it was drilled.  It may be a foolish pleasure, but I highly recommend carving pumpkins for Halloween.  It is the last event of the fall.  How I enjoy it.  Enjoyment of the garden is rarely an academic exercise.  It is a shockingly sensory loaded enjoyment of nature, in all of its forms.  The sound of wind or the cicadas, the smell of the roses, the sounds of the birds, the tulips opening the first really warm day of spring, watching the Boston Ivy change color, the geese flying south, cutting the lids off the pumpkins-I call this experiential and primary source material for a life appreciative of nature.  Halloween is just the right dose of mock horror I need at the end of the season.

Halloween-garden.jpgI do get lots of visitors on Halloween.  I want to make it worth the while of the both of us.  Once my carved pumpkins were set, I was pleased.  I had company coming.

Halloween-night.jpgOur Halloween was perfect.  Rainy and ominously windy.  I only worried for a moment that no one would come.  Of course they would come.  Halloween is but one night every year.  And come they did.

Halloween-night.jpgI was so worried that my votive candles in my pumpkins would blow out, considering the gusty winds and rains.  Rob sent me home with 6 Belgian made candles whose claim to fame is their willingness to burn in adverse conditions.  The wind does not blow these candles out.  These candles not only stayed lit in the wind and rain, they blackened the insides of the pumpkins-to great effect, I might add.

Halloween-pumpkin.jpgEarly in the evening, I could see that my pumpkins were cooking, given the strength of the Belgian candles.  At my request, Buck vented all of the pumpkin lids with florists picks.  Who knew those Belgian candles would provide another dimension to my Halloween garden!  The carved pumpkins promptly blackened-this was a horrifying event I had not anticipated.  The smell was rather delicious, and the steam rising was dramatic.  I was scrambling to make sure they wouldn’t collapse before the end of the evening.

Halloween-pumpkin.jpgTrick or treaters coming up my walk were treated to the smell of cooking pumpkin, and the visual experience of superheated pumpkin in the rain steaming from every cut.  Rob and I spent some time observing the scene from the sidewalk.  Every little visitor was talking about the pumpkins.  Which one they liked the best. There were lots of questions at the door about who carved them.

fiery.jpgMy garden design life is a serious life.  I see it that way.  But there are those moments in the garden that are memorably and simply great fun.  I suspect that I enjoyed my Halloween at least as much as my guests.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe only time I see this group of kids who live in my neighborhood is Halloween night.  They don’t have an appreciation of my yellow magnolias, or the shapes of my boxwood.  But they do respond to what I have carved from the fruits of the harvest.  Every one of them says thanks.  The very youngest children say thanks too, prompted by the parents accompanying them.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe hauling and heaving around of my big pumpkins in the process of carving them-it took its toll.  I have the old lady backache, and my hands are still sore.  So be it.  This Halloween was more fun than I bargained for.

lighted-pumpkin.jpgThe garden’s most memorable moments seem to revolve around that surprise I did not see coming.

Halloween-night.jpgOnce it was dark, these faces took on another dimension, given the interaction of rain, wind, and fire.

trick-or-treater.jpgThis Halloween visitor could not have been more than 3 feet tall.  I would guess he was 9 years old.  His costume- sensational.  We were all having fun.



A customer came in today, faulting me for a lack of materials for the Halloween holiday.  It could be she was right.  I have no materials that are overtly aimed at the Halloween holiday.  But I believe a thrillingly scary Halloween display is more about the presentation, than the materials.  Any material can be scary, given the right environment.  This client has small children, and they like their front door pots planted for fall.  6 stems of the elegant feather grass from my roof garden makes for a wildly hairy pair of centerpieces that will look just right Halloween night.  The cabbage and kale will look good until the weather turns bitterly cold.

I will confess I am a fan of Halloween.  I do not have kids, but I have better than 300 kids who visit my house Halloween night.  I make my front door landscape as spooky as possible that night-this is part of the fun.  Jenny wrapped this serious antique stone bust in the shop in some open weave burlap erosion mat, and added a little flock of birds.  Ghoulish, isn’t it?  None of the materials are particularly scary-what is scary is what Jenny did with them.  

1 spider is tolerable.  3 spiders is manageable.  Hundreds of spiders will elicit dread.  I buy mine by the hundreds from the Oriental Trading Company.  It is the numbers that count.  Whatever you plan for your Halloween display, do lots.  Hundreds of spiders.  A flock of too many blackbirds.  Lots of grinning pumpkins.  Plenty of webs.  These pumpkins have hemp hairdos; packing materials can be a great source for a Halloween display. Should it get wet and soggy, all the better.      

The materials at the farmers market right now are great.  For a Halloween display, I choose the grass, cabbage and cut pods as they look half dead, or from another planet.  This container planting would never satisfy me over the summer, but it is perfectly in tune with the Halloween season.  The plastic skulls are a contribution from the kids.    

Redbor kale is a dark purple that deepens with colder nights.  We plant plenty of these in fall pots.  Looking to introduce some Halloween apprehension to the mix?  Centerpieces out of vertical, pots of plants laying on the ground, displays askew-horrifying.  My landscape installations aim for square and true. Halloween displays should dispute that idea.  No matter what ordinary materials you have to work with, setting them   off center, up side down, or out of kilter will endow them with a little holiday terror.  Though I do plan to plant these kale that the wind blew over, this is a desolate scene, as is.   

Canadian thistles are a vicious weed- so difficult to eradicate.  That said, I love the seed pods in the fall-as do the goldfinches.  This planting has a dead and prickly centerpiece, some very warty gourds, and some black/ purple eucalyptus-very Halloweenish.   

 I stay away from hay bales.  They are messy beyond all belief, unless they are securely bound up.  I like the wood shavings that are known as excelsior for Halloween. These wood shavings stick together.  The look is great. The cleanup is easy.  I like broomcorn much better than cornshocks-their drying seed heads look great on a windy day.   

Pumpkins do not ordinarily scare anyone. The pumpkins and the gourds are the mainstay of the October harvest season, so they are a natural for Halloween.  What makes them creepy is the carving, and the lighting.  I also like long twisting stems.  If I grew my own pumpkins, I would cut them with as much of the vine and dead leaves intact as possible.     

A Halloween display may need a  little structure-these fence panels fashioned from stout branches are a great backdrop, and provide plenty of hanging opportunities. The fence post finials-romanesco broccoli and birdhouse gourds.  I will admit the giant spider, crows and faux webs are especially creepy-these courtesy of my local Halloween store.   

The most ordinary of materials can help bring a Halloween tableau to life.  When it gets dark, the pumpkins and company will appear to be floating-excellent.  A little ghoulishness is great fun.

Have A Horrible Holiday

I do have a horribly soft spot for the Halloween holiday. As much as the gardener in me loves the colors, varieties and shapes of the squash and pumpkins that come to market in the fall, I especially relish the ritual carving of these large roundish fruits into faces of all kinds-silly faces, spooky faces, the faces of the dead, damned and long suffering, the terrifying faces, the simply terrified faces. A client who needed a number of fanciful carved faces-how could I  speedily scoop and carve?  Though I love my dremel tool, its grinding wheel coated me in pumpkin juice and bits in seconds.  I needed a time out to wash my windshield.         

My battery operated drill was a lot more friendly.  After a ink sketch on the pumpkin rind, I drilled holes in every spot I neede a curve.  A florist’s knife is sharp as heck, but generating curves with a straight blade on a curved surface-a blisteringly difficult job. Any child would be thrilled with this pumpkin in its current state- holes from which worms seem to be emerging-perfect.  Another reason to really like Halloween-kids.  They care nothing for the elegance of your execution. They are ready willing and able to climb on the gestalt wagon and go-no questions asked.  They like ripped hems, things that don’t match-plastic in any form is perfect.  Pools of blood, skulls, spiders, bones and rats- poorly represented in plastic-kids like me to bring all of that on.     

My client was not interested in horror-she had a birthday party for a sister planned.  She asked for fanciful-but the pumpkin medium has its demands. The finished pumpkins-try as I might-would never enchant an adult like they would a child.  I finally quit worrying-carved pumpkins lit from within will warm up any end of October celebration. No trouble-she was pleased with what I carved.  Would that I could see them lit up, and beckoning visitors. 

Any Halloween celebration can have an aura of horror given an army of spiders. Multitudes of little plastic spiders can make anyone’s skin crawl. The fruits of the gardening harvest seem to settle right in with all the Halloween plastic. A bale of hay and some hemp can put a composition together; I have no fear of making an unfinished mess of a Halloween celebration.  Ask any kid-but be prepared to hear an answer you may not be ready for.  A natural and gentle Halloween-thank heavens I have not seen that essay.  Every kid I have had occasion to meet encourages me to bring on the dirt, the graves, the blood, the guts, the bats, the skeletons, the worms-are these kids not gardeners in the making? 

Broom corn is a plant that for hundreds of years has been cultivated for utilitarian purposes. A corn broom-do you not have one? Fresh broom corn is beautifully multicolored-some stems are droopy-others upright.  A giant tie of orange raffia ties this entire arrangement to a porch pillar. Seeding broomcorn stems and stalks-this is my late October fireworks.    

I used to finish all of my carvings like they might be cited by the Library of Congress-no more.  The truth of the best part of Halloween-a loose and fast gesture will do just fine. Buck and I so enjoy Halloween-as we have hundreds of visitors.  They never critique my decor.  My Halloween at home is all about meeting kids, photographing their costumes, sending them out into the night with some decent chocolate.  I meet, see, and talk to every kid living in my community but once a year-Halloween night.  

Gardening is an obsession, a serious business, an organizing metaphor for a life.  I could go on, but this is Halloween weekend.   I would turn everything over to those kids for this weekend.  Who knows how many of them might might grow up to be gardeners-growing their own pumpkins for their kids to carve.  

I feel really confident that gardeners all over my area have decorated from the garden, and from the plastics industries- and are ready for Halloween just like me.  Sunday night, Buck and I will be ready.  I cannot entirely explain why we both enjoy Halloween so much-but fun has a lot to do with it.      

A love of the garden can be satisfying in ways I never imagined in advance. I anticipate, and plan to enjoy my Halloween.   I am hoping you will have an equally horrible holiday.

Halloween Week

payne halloween 2006 (5)
 Roll your eyes if you must, but I do celebrate Halloween week.  Better than any other holiday, it celebrates the process of the garden going down-the harvest ripening, the changing of the seasons, the shortening of the days, stormy weather, and the biggest horror of all-the land of plenty is transformed into the land of the dead.  This sounds like plenty of fun to me. Decorating for the Halloween holiday has become very popular in my area in the past five years.

2008 Payne, Lisa 10-24-08 (1)
My Mom, who spent the last of her professional career teaching high school, once told me that a smart mouthed kid once told her that if she thought the music was too loud, she was too old.  Unbeknownst to that nameless and undoubtedly unfocused 17 year old, he made a big impression on her; naturally she passed this on to me. When I think the music is too loud, I try to get into the spirit of it. 

payne halloween 2006 (3)Though I plant plenty for the fall season, the kids for whom the music is not too loud have the right idea. Trolling for treats in costume on a dark, windy and ghostly night –  peopled by the spirits of the dead and doomed; terror-ific.  This client called to say her kids were making fun of her-could she not loosen up, and get a little ghastly? We gave it a whirl. I did tell her the kids needed to supply me with their gruesome best in the way of props.

2007 Payne Fall (9)The fruits of the late season are beautiful; their thick skins coloring up speak to the finish of a summer’s worth of serious growing.  The broomcorn, the bare branches on the trees, the hubbard squash-all of this speaks to a season coming to a close.  The rust red sedum is one of the latest blooming perennials. If you want to represent the season, do lots; we piled the pumpkins up everywhere.   

2007 Payne Fall (13)A porch pillar is encircled with broomcorn, and corseted with dried peeled willow sticks.  I picked gourds with astonishing shapes, and the Hubbard squash too big for anyone else to haul home.  Is it not astonishing how heavy the squashes are?  Every pumpkin and gourd is chosen for its spook factor. Spider webs of hemp fibers complement the lacy shapes of the kale. One of the best things about pumpkins from the market is the stems that are left intact.

2007 Payne Fall (10)
The hanging witches, ghosts and skeletons set a menacing tone on the porch; all we’ll need are some carved and candle-lit pumpkins, a dark and blustery night-and the kids.  Last year Buck and I must have had 300 visitors.   

2007 Payne Fall (15)
OK-so the ghosts look much too friendly, but they were the kid’s choice.  My landscape superintendent involves his kids in a number of Halloween events-parties, pumpkin carving, costume competitions-and a visit to the local spookhouse. They decorate the front garden with ghouls they make themselves. Once the Halloween props are put away for next season, the porch will do well celebrating the Thanksgiving season.  A holiday is a good reason to decorate; the fact that many people do is all the better.  Whole neighborhoods look festive, decorated and lit for Halloween.