It's possible that I go a little overboard when it comes to fall decorating — but it’s hard to resist all of the color and whimsy you can find this time of year. Luscious leaves are plentiful all around my home in shades of red, orange and yellow. Pumpkin farmers just smile when they see me coming, because they know I’ll walk away with a wagonload. My new favorite thing is looking for the most interesting pumpkin varieties around. Maybe they are “warty” or have interesting colors — whatever it is, there’s something about pumpkins that excites my imagination.
With just a few weeks until Halloween, I thought it would be fun to share with you a few projects that help to bring the garden closer to your home. Some of these ideas can last you until Thanksgiving, while others will find their way to the compost pile or recycling bin soon after the trick-or-treaters have gone home with their bags of loot.
Whether you choose to cluster a few pumpkins and a mum by your front door or go all-out and create a haunted garden, I hope that you and yours have a safe and happy Halloween.
Easy garden luminaries
- 12 orange lunch-sized paper sacks usually available at discount and party stores as well as hobby shops
- 1 bag of child’s play sand, usually available at home improvement stores
- 12 LED battery-powered lights (note that traditionally luminaries were lit using candles)
First, fill paper sacks with sand ¼ of the way full. Then, line a walkway or other area with the bags, and finally, insert LED battery-powered light into the bags.
The finished product will allow you to illuminate the path to your front door at night to help trick-or-treaters see their way in the dark. Using LED battery-powered “candles” is a safe alternative to open flames.
- 3 pumpkins, graduated in size and easy to stack one on top of the other
- Carving items such as sharp kitchen knife, ice-cream scoop, jar lid, melon carver or other items for removing seeds
- Wooden floral stakes
- Flashlight or focus lamp
The first thing you'll want to do is find three pumpkins that you can easily stack one on top of the other. A large one at the bottom, a medium-sized one in the middle and a small one to round off the top.
Now the idea here is to create an opening all the way through the three pumpkins, so a light can sit in the bottom pumpkin and shine out all three of them. The smallest pumpkin will determine the size of the holes to cut. Cut a hole in the top and bottom of the small and medium pumpkins. You'll only need to cut a hole in the top of the large one.
Next, clean out the seeds. I've found an ice-cream scoop and an old jar lid very helpful when trying to remove all of the goo. You may wish to reserve the seeds to make toasted pumpkin seeds.
Now for the fun part: giving them a little personality. I like to give each one a unique face, one menacing, one happy and one a little surprised.
After the carving is done, stack the totem and secure one jack-o’-lantern to the next by pinning them with wooden floral stakes. When it comes to lighting them up, you can use a flashlight, but recently I came across a focus lamp at my local hardware store. This kind of light is inexpensive, runs on batteries and lasts a long time.
With so many varieties of pumpkins out there and so many different faces to carve, the sky's the limit. Be creative and have fun!
- Large pumpkin
- Carving items for pumpkin such as a kitchen knife, jar lid or ice pick
- Petroleum jelly
- Disposable cloths or paper towels
- Mum in nursery pot
Place the base of the nursery pot over the pumpkin and gently score the edges of the pumpkin to mark the width of the mum pot. Cut out top of pumpkin using scored edges the width of the mum pot, discarding the cap and stem of pumpkin. Scoop out insides of pumpkin. (Note: You may wish to save the seeds to toast later.) Using the ice pick, punch four holes into base of pumpkin. This will allow for water drainage. Gently dry interior of pumpkin using cloth or paper towel. Now spread a coating of petroleum jelly over interior of pumpkin. This will help to keep the pumpkin from drying out and decaying as quickly. Insert mum into pumpkin and keep mum moist (drying out is the kiss of death to mums).
- Ornamental grass (I recommend Carex grass in the Toffee Twist, Chartreuse, or Milk Chocolate varieties)
- Carving items such as kitchen knife
- Optional for decorating pumpkin face: Felt, scissors, glue, paint and permanent markers
Select location of “hair” and cut out section of pumpkin the size of the base of the container of ornamental grass. Remove seeds and other contents of pumpkin (you may wish to reserve seeds for toasting). Punch two drain holes into base of pumpkin. Insert grass. If desired, decorate pumpkin’s face with felt cut-out eyes, paint or other elements.
Masses of mums
I'm always looking for ways to keep as much color in the garden as long as possible. I have plenty for late-summer bloom — such as goldenrod and asters — but to ensure a splash of color deep into the autumn, I always plant a few garden mums. They are naturals for the fall landscape.
Mums originally came from China and have been grown in gardens there for more than 2,500 years. It's easy to understand why they are so enduring — they come in such a variety of shapes and colors.
When I purchased my mums at my local garden center, they didn't look like much. But on closer inspection, I could see that they were just covered with tiny little buds, just waiting to explode into flower. I prefer selecting them heavily budded rather than in full bloom, because it gives them more of an opportunity to root into my flower bed and settle naturally into the landscape.
For the most visual impact, I like to group several plants, putting them close enough to one another that they form a dense mass. And I always think that they're more striking when grouped into single colors or color families.
For the buds to mature into flowers, it's important not to let the plants become too dry. Without moisture, the flowers can grow small and malformed. Once they bloom, I'll cut them back and dig them up and move them to another part of my garden, so I'll still have time to fill the area with tulips for bloom next spring.
Now, what to do with all the pumpkin seeds you scooped out? Try this recipe!
P. Allen Smith is the CEO of Hortus Ltd., a media production company responsible for two nationally syndicated half-hour television programs, numerous magazine columns, a popular Web site, a best-selling series of garden-design-lifestyle books, lecture series and news reports that air on stations around the country as well as on The Weather Channel. He is also the principal in P. Allen Smith and Associates, a landscape design firm.