Bred In The Bone

Though we have had a long string of warm days, the fall season is well underway. For Rob, the first whiff of fall means it is time for him to seek out and assemble a striking and unusual collection of pumpkins and gourds that will enchant gardeners who frequent Detroit Garden Works. Though it might be hard to believe, we ship his pumpkin choices nation wide this time of year. Unsurprisingly, he has a following. His pumpkin seeking has taken him several hundred miles in every direction from Detroit Garden Works. I greatly admire that focus and sense of purpose;  his travels represent lots of love, and lots more labor. I doubt he is aware of the hours passing. He has a big love for these fruits of the fall. And a bigger love and respect for those serious breeders with whom he has established a relationship. Countless times I have spoken to him while he was in the field. The excitement in his voice about what he was seeing was contagious. When did I fall in love with pumpkins and gourds? Just past that moment that he fell headlong for them. The colors, the patterns, the shapes, the surfaces- what is not to appreciate about these gorgeous fruits of the fall?

One of his favorite hybridizers is a gentleman close to 70. He and his wife have farmed for decades. Semi truckloads of their carving pumpkins are picked up weekly during the season, bound to markets far away from Michigan. He is also a hybridizer of considerable repute. His breeding crop, better than 30 years in the making, is under contract with seed companies that hope to be able to introduce some of his varieties. His interest in the future of pumpkins is bred in the bone serious. I suspect that Rob’s enthusiasm for a crop that he has devoted a lifetime was the beginning of a friendship based on mutual interest.

The average pumpkin field is bee hybridized. Pumpkins and squashes readily cross pollinate with each other. Bees gone wild! This means that every pumpkin field you visit will have pumpkins, squashes and gourds that are particular to that field, courtesy of random bee pollination.  Many of the pumpkins Rob selects for the shop are the result of a lifetime of work from a farmer turned plant breeder. Their pumpkins are a result of a breeding program that is strictly controlled. Many of the crosses are made in a greenhouse, to prevent any stray pollination from influencing the breeding goals.

Truth be told, Rob primarily buys pumpkins from two breeders. They are best friends, though they are many miles apart. They trade seed. They grow the most beautiful and interesting pumpkins I have ever seen. Of course the seed companies get first dibs on what they want. The blackest of the dark green pumpkins are usually put on reserve, as well as any bicolor pumpkins that feature strong and non-fading color contrast.  Rob brings in truckload after truckload of them once they are released for local sale. Rob has his interests and standards too. The very tall pumpkins have to stand up on their own, before Rob will buy them. The stems are stout and long. Many of the characteristics of a stem might actually become part of the upper surface of a pumpkin.

I did have the idea that I would discuss in this post the science involved in the hybridizing of pumpkins. Ha! That science is complicated.  I could not begin to discuss what is involved in breeding pumpkins. Suffice it to say that anyone who breeds pumpkins has a big love for nature, and loads of patience.

We had plenty of visitors for our fall fete this past weekend. I think I am accurate in saying the range of shapes, colors and textures was considerable. As in, something for everyone. I enjoyed watching people go through the process of making up their mind which pumpkins they would speak for. I understand this issue.  I like them all.

I feel fortunate that my home state is one of the top 6 states in pumpkin production in the US. This means I have the pleasure of being swamped with them. To follow are a few too many more pictures of Rob’s pumpkin picks.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 white pumpkin with green blush

pumpkin shopping

terrific, aren’t they?











  1. I’ve never been too excited about pumpkins until I saw these. They are gorgeous!

  2. The feeling is mutual! Thanks for sharing your pics

  3. Faye Moyer says

    After enjoying your post, I no longer feel so guilty for over-buying pumpkins every year at our annual big-farm visit. Our whole family spends several hours, ranging over the huge fields, discovering all kinds of them still nestled in their vines. We always overstuff our wheelbarrow & then have to remember which ones go to whose house. I just LOVE the bi-colored ones you show here & have never seen them before in our local Pennsylvania fields!

  4. Silvia Weber says

    Love the pumpkins!
    Adore those huge, curled stems!!

  5. Very enchanting. I’ve never seen a pumpkin that is dark green and orange like that, cool designs. . .how could that happen?!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cathy, those bicolor pumpkins are the result of many years of serious breeding.I cannot answer your question beyond this. I am a gardener who appreciates their breeding work, and Rob’s efforts to source truly unusual and striking pumpkins. These pumpkins are astonishing in every regard, aren’t they? I can say that I have never seen pumpkins like these before. best regards, Deborah

  6. Oh my gosh, they are I have some blk Forest green paint, think I will paint one! So much FUN !!!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanna, I agree that there are moments in the gardening year that are so much fun. These pumpkins are proof positive of that. best regards, Deborah

  7. They are so interesting! And pretty!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Miranda, these pumpkins are gorgeous, interesting, textural, colorful, shapely-everything one could want from an ornamental and edible fruit that ripens in the fall. all the best, Deborah

  8. absolutely FABULOUS!!!!!!!

  9. Jeannine Eitel says

    These pumpkins are all beauties! The long strong looking stems add character to them. Great displays! It would be a very difficult choice to pick. I would want one of each. Wish they had them in Ontario.

  10. Carol Watkins says

    I love the pumpkins too- many with such character, and strange colorations- look painted that way with dark above and below in pattern. And I too, like to have a character stem on the pumpkin. When I was a young kid- my Dad had a garden in the larger yard across the street. Said one day, “come with me, I want to show you something interesting”. We went across the street and the huge pumpkin had my name on it. He finally confessed he had carved it when the pumpkin was small- and the name became scar tissue.

  11. Nancy Edwards says

    Rob is Pumpkin King! Those are breathtaking!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, HA! Rob IS the pumpkin king. Seriously, he loves this moment in the gardening year, his relationship with these growers, and Detroit Garden Works awash in pumpkins of every description. I confess I love this time too. He won me over. all the best, Deborah

  12. Thanks for this!! I too love all the variety in pumpkins and gourds-and seek out a long interesting stem! I really enjoyed these photos❤️

  13. Mardi Letson says

    These pumpkins are so beautiful! I, too, buy way too many pumpkins every autumn!!! And never regret it!

  14. The stems have a big part on how the pumpkins look!

  15. Lisa at Greenbow says

    I always enjoy seeing his pumpkin picks. They are so unusual that it makes me feel like that little one looks when I see them.

  16. Simply Marvelous!!! Truly!!

  17. Mary Baskwell says

    The seventh picture from the top features “Tall Boy” with what looks to be a dark green wax sculpture which forms his elongated stem and royal crown that drips down to form the hills and valleys below. All the pumpkins are fabulous, but that one is magnificent! These gems were a feast for the eyes. Thanks to Rob for his love of pumpkins and to you for sharing the wonderful photos.

  18. Dear Deborah,
    I come from a town in Minnesota that bills itself as “The Halloween Capitol of the World”, and they even have a high school football game called the Pumpkin Bowl! But never have I seen such a glorious display of pumpkins that you and Rob come up with. He too has made me appreciate the stems. Best, -greg

  19. Charisse Andrews says

    Oh, it is wonderful to know that there are many others out there crazy for pumpkins! I get mine from a veggie stand where we get the most amazing summer heirloom vegetables. The young couple that run it are a delight; the young man is the son of the man who supervised Jefferson’s Monticello gardens in Virginia. I have several of the pumpkins in your photos, and also one that I didn’t see called a Cinderella. It is very large, multi colored and flatter than most, just wonderful. Thanks for the photos, and Happy Halloween to you and Rob. PS my favorite of your are the bicolor ones….

  20. Your pumpkins are spectacular! Pumpkins in MA are typically roundish and orange or white. Your tall pumpkins and the orange with a dark green pattern are my favorites. So unusual. Hybridizing pumpkins is fascinating, producing nice variety in size, shape, texture and color. The possibilities are really impressive. Thank you for sharing the science and beauty of pumpkins. Happy Fall! Susan

  21. Jennifer Taylor says

    OH MY gosh!! What a magnificent bonanza of pumpkins and gourds. Way to go Rob! And thank you Deborah for sharing the wonderful story of Rob’s two primary sources for these beauties. What FUN to read. I love growing pumpkins and this is very inspiring. Thank you again for sharing.

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