On a trip to the American Northeast a few years ago, I was blown away by their celebration of fall. Corn stalks, hay bales, ornamental corns, weird and wonderful squashes and pumpkins like you've never seen before and unusual, colourful gourds that were simply out of this world. It was truly nice to see whole neighbourhoods put their garden harvest on display for everyone to enjoy. It made me wonder why we don't do the same on the West Coast.
With a little creativity, there's always room for a few decorative garden ornamentals. Don't settle for just ordinary pumpkins - try some novel varieties. The tiniest pumpkins are the three to four inch 'Sweetie Pies' or 'Jack-B-Littles'. 'Baby Boo', a pure white pumpkin, has had 'the orange' scared right out of it! These miniature pumpkins look great on grape vine wreaths, in cornucopias and even as table centrepieces. They're too hard to carve though and that's why the next size up, 'Baby Bear' or 'Little Lantern' are so popular with small children. These five inch by five inch cucurbits are easy to carve and a nice match for pint-sized carvers. Another unusual pumpkin is the 9 to 12 inch white 'Lumina' that supposedly makes the very best pumpkin pie anywhere! Monsters, like the giants 'Big Max' and 'Prizewinner', weighing 50 to 100 pounds, make great conversation pieces.
Back in Maryland, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania, I also saw a spectacular collection of gourds. Of all the many varieties, the most versatile is the 'Bird House Gourd', which dries as hard as a rock and can be hollowed out for use as a birdhouse, a bird feeder or as a hanging water receptacle for thirsty birds. A most unusual gourd, called 'Speckled Swan', has a curved neck and green-flecks. This 'attention getter' can be an object of much fun, decorated up in a basket. 'Aladdin's Turban', with its bright orange base and a green/red/yellow turban on top, is, by far, the most popular gourd, and it makes a great tablecentre.
'Crown of Thorns', 'Dolphin', 'White Egg', Bicolour Pear', 'Italian Snake', 'Canteen', 'Penguin' 'Cave Man's Club' and 'Long Siphon' are just a few of the descriptive names given to the weirdest collection of garden gourds you could imagine. Back east, shoppers were eagerly packing them away for home decorating. A word of caution: next spring if you decide to plant these wonderfully weird gourds in your garden, keep them well away from your pumpkin and squash patches otherwise you'll end up with pumpkins that look like 'Cave Man's Clubs' and squashes that taste like 'Italian Snakes'! Blame the bees!
Ornamental corn is not inexpensive, especially something unique like 'Broom Corn', a blend of copper, rust and deep brown cobs used to make old European brooms or fall wreaths, but there are many more affordable varieties. 'Strawberry Popcorn' has tiny two inch, strawberry-shaped, deep crimson cobs that are great features in swags or wreaths. 'Cutie Pops' are multi-coloured miniature four inch cobs that can be used for popcorn or fall decor and for those of you with colour schemes, 'Cutie Blue' and 'Cutie Pink' will give you elegant blue or rose-pink tones for colour coordinated decorating. 'Feather Popcorn' is especially nice for dried arrangements because of the feathery husks over each kernel and its tan, purple, brown and copper coloured cobs make great additions to any autumn accent piece.
Pumpkins, gourds and ornamental corn are wonderful for decorating, so let's brighten up our homes and neighbourhoods!