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?










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 Pumpkin Patch

in-the-patch.jpgThe pictures from Rob’s trip to the pumpkin patch are eloquent in their description of the change of the season.  The pumpkins and squash are brilliant in their mature coloration.  The fruits of the harvest are juicy and robust.

in-the-patch.jpgAt the same time that the pumpkins are coming into their glory, the vines that nourished them are fading and blackening from cold.  At the time of the harvest, the vines have completed their life span.

Rob says this annual trip to cut pumpkins is one of his favorite moments in the gardening year.  As usual, he chooses materials for the shop that reflect his point of view about what is beautiful.  There’s not much more to say, other than the fact that his photographs tell a story I never tire of hearing.

pumpkin-patch.jpgpumpkins in the patch

pumpkin-patch.jpgmature pumpkins

white-squash.jpgwhite squash

vine.jpgpumpkin vines

orange-and-brown.jpgthe farm

single-pumpkin.jpgpumpkin and stem

patch-2.jpgthe harvest

patch-4.jpggreen squash

the-harvest.jpgpumpkin patch

home-patch.jpghand picked for Detroit Garden Works



At A Glance: First Signs

last rose of summer

pumpkin “Long Island Cheese”

ornamental kale 

pumpkin in the gourd patch 

fall container planting


gourds and pumpkins

ornamental kale


fall container materials

carving pumpkins

broom corn

twig pumpkins


fall pots