Trick or treat
It was half term this past week, and as my wife is a teacher we’ve been away to visit friends who live in the very lovely town of West Kirby. It was absolutely brill to spend time with our pals but I was roughly 250 miles from my garden for a whole week, which was a bit of a pain. You see so much needed doing (dividing perennials, planting bulbs, mulching borders, general autumn tidying – the list goes on) and a school holiday, when there are two adults to keep my nine-month-old daughter occupied, is the perfect time to get on top of things. Never mind, I popped all my tender plants in the greenhouse, just in case there was a frost while we were away, and got used to the idea of planting my bulbs in the Christmas holidays (yes, I know planting bulbs in December is far from ideal but I have got away with it in the past – just).
Ness Botanic Gardens
Even though I’ve been far from my own garden, I’ve still had gardening on the brain. I don’t know about you, but I love to visit gardens if I’m on holiday (especially if there’s a stonking tea room and the chance of some yummy cake), and by some miracle I managed to convince the whole party, including two young boys, that it would be a fab idea to fly by Ness Botanic Gardens.
We visited on a gloriously sunny afternoon, the autumn colours were gorgeous and everyone had a thoroughly lovely time (even my daughter whose buggy could have done with four-wheel drive for some of the trickier terrain). The visit was especially a hit with the boys because Halloween was on the way and there was a pumpkin trail to keep them occupied. They were particularly excited when we found the climax of the trail, which was an impressive display of squash in different shapes, colours and sizes. Unfortunately I couldn’t identify them all, which somewhat dented the ‘Kevin-knows-lots-about-gardening’ aura I try to give off.
Inspired by the pumpkins we’d seen at Ness the boys (rather egged on by the dads) decided to have a go at carving a lantern. Have you ever done it? It’s not as easy as it looks, I can tell you. Even so, after an afternoon of unimaginable mess, near misses with sharp blades and a great deal of patience we ended up with something not half bad.
Sadly we had to buy a pumpkin from a shop, and I can’t help feeling the whole experience would have been a tad more satisfying if we’d had a home-grown one to hack to pieces. But then is it a waste to plant a seed in May, nurture a plant for months and then harvest a crop only to make it into a lantern? I guess there’s always pumpkin pie or soup to make the most of the fleshy bit.
So, what did you do with your half term? Don’t tell me – you planted bulbs, mulched borders and divided your perennials. You’ll have nothing to do at Christmas now.
Until next time…
P.S. The main pumpkin grower in the UK – David Bowman Ltd – grows more than two million pumpkins every year to sell to supermarkets, most of which get carved up for Halloween. Can you imagine harvest time?
Kevin Smith is a garden writer, blogger and former Commissioning Editor of BBC Gardeners' World Magazine.