It’s mid-October. The nights are drawing in and Halloween is fast approaching. Farmers here in East Kent are already opening their field gates for local folk to go and pick their own pumpkins.
Provided you’ve got a fine day and decent wellies, choosing you own pumpkin is great fun to do …. and why stop at just one? These days they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, including spooky grey-white ‘ghost’ pumpkins. However, there’s no need to wait until October 31st to light up your traditional Jack-o’-lantern. In the USA ‘harvest’ is celebrated with equal gusto; homeowners display stacks of multi-coloured pumpkins, gourds and squashes on their porches, while their front doors are decorated with wreaths fashioned from maple leaves, dried grasses, twigs and Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi).
If I’m honest, celebrating the richness and colour of the autumn season appeals to me much more than Halloween. The garden and allotment are still bursting with beautiful flowers, begging to be admired. As the weather becomes increasingly cool and unsettled, and the nights draw in, I feel more inclined to cut my flowers and enjoy them indoors where it’s warm and cosy.
In this post, I describe how to make a stunning autumn arrangement combining dahlias and other seasonal flowers in a vessel fashioned from a hollowed-out pumpkin. It’s simplicity itself to do, and the result will fill your home with a rich autumnal exuberance. Try positioning your arrangement on a front windowsill or hall table to welcome visitors, or in a hearth instead of a fire. The blaze of colour is guaranteed to bring cheer to the gloomiest of October days.
For a single arrangement you will need:
A Small to Medium-Sized Pumpkin – choose whichever colour and shape appeals to you most.A Pint Glass or Jam Jar – chose one that will fit snuggly inside your hollow fruit.A Sharp Knife – I find one with a serrated edge cuts best.Tap WaterFlower Food (optional)A Pair of Sharp Snips or SecateursA Selection of Autumn Flowers and Foliage – dahlias, chrysanthemums, salvias, heleniums, helichrysums, zinnias and carthamus work particularly well, but use whatever pleases you.
In my small arrangement I use Dahlia ‘Normandie Frills’, D. ‘Jowey Chantal’, safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), Helianthus SunBelievable ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and flowers from our Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).
In my large arrangement I use Dahlia ‘Black Jack’, D. ‘Nicholas’, D. ‘Brown Sugar’, D. ‘Happy Halloween’, D. ‘Chimborazo’ and D. ‘Hadrian’s Midnight’ with heleniums, rosemary and fountain grass (pennisetum)
Watch My ‘How To’ Video Here:
Start your arrangement by giving your pumpkin a gentle clean with a sponge, just to remove any residual grime from the field. Then take an upturned pint glass or jar, placing it centrally over the stalk at the top, and mark a line around the rim using a fine-tipped marker pen. This is safer than cutting straight around the edge of the glass.
Having removed the glass, cut out the circle with a sharp knife, taking the greatest of care to concentrate. Keep your fingers well out of the way: this should be a fun project, not one that ends with a trip to A&E! Properly cured pumpkins have a tough, smooth skin so don’t rush the job and slip. Be prepared to go around a few times with the knife before you can lift the ‘lid’. If the stalk of the pumpkin is short, I actually find it slightly easier to push the lid inwards first to get a grip on it that way.
Now remove the flesh and seeds. I find a metal tablespoon with a reasonably thin edge works best to scrape away the pith, which can be quite stringy and clingy. If you have an especially nice pumpkin and would like to have a go at growing your own next year, save a few seeds. You can dry them by laying them out on a piece of kitchen paper for a few days before storing them somewhere cool, dry and dark.
Try to remove as much of the soft flesh as you can and dry the inside with kitchen paper, just to avoid any mould developing later. You should find that your pint glass or jar fits snuggly inside the cavity you’ve created. If it rattles around a bit, or does not sit straight, don’t worry. Put some sand or rice in the bottom of the pumpkin and that should create a firm base. Fill the vessel (not the pumpkin) with water, adding flower food if you have it. (Flower food can prolong the life of your flowers by a few days.)
Now for the fun part …. the flowers.
I’m no flower arranger and I like my flowers to be arranged simply, so anyone can do this project. However, if you are skilled and experienced you can go to town by adding lots of artisitic flourishes.
I recommend starting with a generous amount of foliage to create a degree of support for the flowers that come later. Something bushy like rosemary, eucalyptus or smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) works really well. Four or five sprigs should suffice. Be sure to strip away any leaves that will sit below the water line to prevent the water turning sour and smelly.
Keep your flowers in water in a cool place until you are ready to use them. Re-cut the stems as you position each flower. There is tendency for plants to produce blooms on shorter stems at the end of the season, and these work well in this stocky arrangement. I tend to start with flowers that will sit on the surface of the pumpkin and build steadily upwards to create a globe shape. As a guide you want the ball of flowers to be a similar size to the pumpkin itself, or a little bigger. Use three or five of the same flower if you can spare them: as with so many things the finished arrangement will look more harmonious if there is some degree of repetition. Turn the pumpkin as you add flowers, checking that every angle looks pleasing.
Continue adding flowers and adjusting stem lengths until you have a neat ball. If you have a few little gems, like the ‘Hadrian’s Midnight’ and ‘Chimborazo’ dahlias I used, add these at the end to stud the arrangement – as you would decorate a baked ham with cloves – keeping them evenly spaced apart.
I added some whispy fountain grass to my arrangement to make it more explosive. Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba), with its shaggy, spidery seed-heads would look super cascading over the edge of the pumpkin like steam pouring from a bubbling cauldron. If I’d had some to hand, blood-red virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia) or tendrilous grape vine (Vitis vinifera) would also look super against the smooth surface of the pumpkin.
All that remains to do is admire your handywork, find a suitable focal point for your arrangement and wait for the compliments to flood in. Quick and inexpensive to create, an autumn pumpkin arrangement would make a great gift for a friend or neighbour.
Do have a go at this project and let me know how you get along in the comments section below. Happy Harvest! TFG.
All filming and photography: John D. McKenna (@jmkna) aka The Beau.