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Fall garden decorating has made a wild leap beyond the spooky carved pumpkin on the front porch. When pumpkins, gourds, and squash of every color — orange, of course, but also creamy white, pink, green, yellow, and striped — show up by the pallet-full at farmers’ markets, garden shops, and local grocery stores, customers snap them up by the bushel. They line them up on garden walls, stack them in flowerpots, march them up the front stairs, and pile them on patio tables. They’re as flashy as mums and asters, and they last a lot longer.
“Pumpkins don’t need any help looking pretty,” says Jimmy Turner, who allows that he let himself “go a little crazy with pumpkins” in his days as director of gardens at the
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Every year, a display of 50,000 pumpkins, squash, and gourds transforms the arboretum into a fantasy pumpkin village; the show attracts more than 200,000 visitors from late September through the end of November.
Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are all members of the Cucurbita family. Some are edible and some are decorative: according to the horticultural experts at Texas A&M University, you carve pumpkins, you eat squash, and gourds are decorative. Turner doesn’t worry about the definitions, nor adhere to any rules for indoor or outdoor displays. They all look terrific just about anywhere you put them, he says: “They’re the throw pillows of garden decoration.”
They’re also inexpensive: Big pumpkins cost about $10 and up. A box of colorful gourds or miniature pumpkins, no bigger than muffins, “is cheaper than a bouquet of roses,” Turner says. You can line them up in a ribbon down the center of the dining-room table, arrange them around the rims of big flowerpots, scatter them casually across the top of a bale of hay, and fill baskets with them. Wherever you put them, inside or out, the seasonal transformation is like magic.
Of course, carved pumpkins will never lose their charm.
Special pumpkin-carving kits (available at hobby shops) make it possible to create intricately detailed designs, and common household implements — a mellon baller, a zester, cookie cutters, a keyhole saw, or even an electric drill — will help you turn a lowly pumpkin into a masterpiece. The more of them, the merrier: grinning, glaring pumpkins will seem to have a fall party of their own. They will last for a couple of weeks in cool fall temperatures, and their expressions will change as they age, giving them more character every day.
Gourds and squash — including warty, ridged, and lumpy, lopsided specimens — also make striking lanterns, and they’re wonderful containers for fall flower arrangements. At my local farmer’s market, a flower seller displays her colorful bouquets in pie pumpkins. She carves out the tops, hollows out the pumpkins, puts a jelly jar inside, and arranges her flowers in the jar. (I used my Fiskars Big Grip Knife to do this on my own!)
Here’s my own version of a pumpkin vase and fall flowers from my garden. It adds the perfect touch to your outdoor autumn décor! After a day or two, you can move the flowers to a vase and put the pumpkin to a more traditional use: after all, it’s pie season.