They’re not just for Hallowe’en and come in all shapes and sizes!
Pumpkins probably provide the most unusual late splashes of colour in the vegetable garden. Amid the decaying foliage can be found an astonishing array of outlandish fruits that sit on the soil like an elephant’s discarded gem stones. Besides enthralling adults, they’re also a delight for children and an effective way to get them growing plants, if only for the thrill of creating their own Hallowe’en lanterns. Many make good eating too, although we’re still getting to grips with cooking pumpkins in the UK.
Pumpkins have no specific botanical status and are just a type of winter squash, largely derived from Cucurbita pepo, although some of the larger types come from C. maxima. They originate from North America and are widely grown commercially for food as well as decoration, with some types being useful for both. It’s amazing that just one or two species can generate such an incredible range of fruit, of different sizes, shapes and textures from around the world. Pumpkins grow on vigorous spreading or clambering tender annual vines, which can make 1.8m (6ft) or more, taking up quite a bit of space, so are best grown on a bit of vacant land or on an allotment, rather than the treasured vegetable plot. Seeds are usually planted singly in pots under glass or on a windowsill in May, then grown on and hardened off for planting out in rich garden soil in June after the last frosts. Keep your plant watered and fed throughout the summer and help pollination by transferring pollen from bloom to bloom with a paintbrush. If you want to grow a giant just keep one or two fruit and cut back stems, removing other fruit once your chosen fruit starts swelling.