ART and DESIGN are ways of creatively CELEBRATING LIFE—AND DEATH! As the outdoor growing season dies, humans have celebrated this time since long ago as a symbol for the passing of life and the chance to honor the spirits. All cultures have some kind of similar celebration, and the ARTISTIC EXPRESSION that comes from it is not only ASTOUNDINGLY DIVERSE, but fascinatingly attractive; albeit often macabre. Sometimes, that macabre is an integral part of the celebration. After all, HALLOWEEN was a night when those spirits walked and it was imperative to scare them away!
In the BRITISH ISLES, long before anyone there grew pumpkins (an American native), turnips and mangelwurzel (field beets) were carved into lanterns with GHOULISH FACES. These were OUTFITTED WITH A CANDLE and hung on poles to be carried, or at gates, windows, and doors. Any spirit, malevolent or not, would think twice about harassing the carver. That tradition was carried to the Americas, where ‘THE GREAT PUMPKIN’ was born. Today, even in the U.K., pumpkins, squash, or gourds make a far more cooperative and satisfying JACK’O’LANTERN.
Where’s the DECORATION?
The ease and simplicity of adding these members of the Cucurbit family, carved or not, to YOUR CONSERVATORY OR GREENHOUSE for SEASONAL DECORATION is unrivaled. There are so many species and cultivars that you’ll grow dizzy from choice. They range from the MINI to the MASSIVE, from WHITE to nearly BLACK, and from PERFECTLY GEOMETRICAL to GNARLY. Carved out, they can even be used as ‘COSTUMES’ FOR YOUR PLANT POTS (just add a bag if it’s a snug fit so your pot doesn’t get slimy)! A bonus of placing them just prior to Halloween is that they can remain through Thanksgiving. Perhaps removing the carved ones so as not to scare Thanksgiving guests away. REMEMBER to add the ones you don’t turn into pie to the compost pile.
Looking for FUN?
There are other plants that can create a FUN and MACABRE EFFECT. One is the BEAUTIFUL and FRIGHTENING-LOOKING Solanum quitoense, a.k.a. Naranjilla. Spineless varieties of this are grown as a fruit crop, but I’m talking about the original species with its LARGE, SERRATED, SP]INY, PURPLE-HAIRED leaves. Don’t let those spines scare you—just your guests. This is a very easy plant to grow and does well in a pot. I have grown it a number of times and if you’re mindful, it won’t bite! In fact, you MAY FALL IN LOVE WITH IT. Its relative, the PORCUPINE TOMATO, a.k.a. Solanum pyracanthum, is an option, but while it’s even scarier, it’s not quite as pretty. Another FUN FACT is that these are part of the nightshade family—which we know witches have been using for centuries to weave their spells.
There is even a perfect ‘GOTH’ PLANT. It’s a sage species known as Salvia discolor and has everything you could want in FASHION REBEL. It’s got the closest you’ll find to BLACK FLOWERS, which should conveniently be blooming for Halloween, and a pale, silver-green foliage. If the KIDS touch it, they’ll ‘OOH’ and ‘ICK’ because of its sticky stems. It makes a WONDERFUL GREENHOUSE PLANT and tends to bloom more or less all year if kept warm. Even its scent is bizarrely attractive.
MY FAVORITE plant for Halloween decorating is the BAT-LEAVED PASSION VINE. Passiflora coriacea (recently changed to sexocellata), especially a cultivar called Passiflora x ‘Manta’. This is a loveable, excellent greenhouse denizen that you can easily manipulate like a string of lights or garland. It gives you that PERFECT FLUTTERING BAT LOOK. You can set it up in a place of honor to impress your costumed guests, then put it back in its preferred spot when the festivities are over.
If you’re looking to create an atmosphere using DRIED PLANTS, one of the best is the SNAPDRAGON STEM LADEN with its skull-shaped seedpods. Mixing in red-hued grasses, orange Chinese lanterns and blackish Purple Majesty millet will give you a WONDERFULLY ATTRACTIVE, MYSTERIOUS VIBE that can also be left for the Thanksgiving decorations. Leaving off the lights and using candles (real or faux) on Halloween night will delight all.
Finally, ADD IN THE DARK METAL. Not necessarily the rock music kind, but iron, bronze, or copper (oxidized copper looks great). TUBS and CAULDRONS make great ‘PLANT POT COSTUMES’, old twisted gates are great for the vines, and sundry candleholders create ambiance.
Whether as extra room for a Halloween party or a haunted conservatory for your trick-or-treaters, your greenhouse will look phantabulous.
Happy All Hallows Eve!
By Dea Schofield