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.

At A Glance: The Witch Is In

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 Eve

Oct 7a 005Outfitting an antique iron urn with a life size Halloween sculpture of the wicked witch of the west was my client’s idea. I think she is as wild about Halloween as her kids; she has a whimsically good spirit about her.  So why not?  Lauren, who is young enough to be able to locate and shop on line with lightening speed, found me a a posable standing aluminum mannekin covered in foam, with a polyester stretch knit covering.  This figure was just waiting for an identity.  The adjustable aluminum pole enabled us to set the height of the sculpture properly in the urn.  The base plate went into the urn, and was stablilized with granite setts piled over top of it.

Oct 9 008Her vehicle was fashioned from a sharpened hickory fence pole, to which we attached black plastic grass; voila, a a suitably creepy broomstick.  The gearshift knob is a stick ball, which I loaded with threads of industrial strength hot melt glue.  For all the world it looks like she just flew through an industrial strength spider web. Or perhaps she has pet spiders that like go everywhere with her.

Oct 7a 014Apparently you can buy Halloween costumes in adult sizes. The outfit came complete with a suitably pointy hat with a tulle band, and the most fabulous pair of  witchy shoes with flared heels and buckles.  The striped socks and  dirty chartreuse garden gloves came from Lauren.  This girl is dressed to kill.  

Oct 9 010Her face is ghoulishly green perfection.  We mechanically fastened the mask to the head of the mannequin; any part of the sculpture going askew as a result of our unpredictable October weather would not be good.   One ping pong ball split in two is the basis for the eyes.  They bulge out of the vinyl eye sockets in a terrifying way; Lauren painted on the chartreuse eyeballs, and exploded capillaries. Warty pumpkins and gourds cover the base plate.  The decapitated fabric dolls-some with mini-pumpkin heads, are an especially gruesome touch.

Oct 9 012A few finishing touches to the surrounding landscape, and our witch was ready for Halloween.  This yard is decked out in spectacular anticipation of Halloween night.  The whole process of the installation stopped traffic; lots of people like the fun that is Halloween. Oct 7a 017Her hemp fiber hairdo befits her; hemp stuffed into her hat makes the most of that pointed shape. Though I have not devoted too much time here to the construction, I chose all of the materials to start with the idea that rain and wind would not disturb them. Of course we had both the day after the installation.  That polyester outfit shed the water, the tulle hat band held with water droplets to good effect.  She has been flying across the yard for the better part of three weeks-looking good.  

Oct 30 117The night sky changes the appearance of everything. As is evident in the above picture taken last night, there will be a prominent moon tomorrow; I am always appreciative whenever nature cooperates.

Oct 28 007The night light makes her appear all the more scary and threatening.  Uplighting is the most garish and unattractive light possible in a landscape; this is working to great advantage here. 

Oct 28 006
Scardy cats, beware!