Halloween pumpkins are hallmarks of the season. While they've only been carved as the Jack O'Lanterns we know and love since the 19th century, the tradition of hollowing the fruit out to form a lantern crosses continents and dates back centuries.
If you'll be carving pumpkins at home, use our guide to pumpkin varieties to choose the right one for you and get creative with our pumpkin carving tips. If you're feeling green-fingered, swot up on our Head Gardener's squash-growing tips and grow the perfect pumpkins for next year. Of course, you can always visit us for the Great Golden Pumpkin Hunt for some extra special pumpkin activities!
What pumpkin variety should you choose?
For the biggest pumpkins, try Wallace’s Whoppers and Atlantic Giant.
For the tastiest pumpkins, avoid the supermarket if you can and source your pumpkin from a local grower. They are more likely to have a range of varieties available so you can choose the right taste. Don’t discount squashes either, which often very closely resemble a pumpkin in all but name and can be very delicious.
For decorative pumpkins, Jack Be Little and Munchkin varieties are perfectly formed and petite.
Hestercombe's very own golden pumpkin will be hidden away in the gardens soon. Join the Great Golden Pumpkin Hunt family trail from the 27th October to the 4th November. - complete the quest and claim a chocolate prize!
How to grow the best Halloween pumpkins
We asked Head Gardener Claire Greenslade to share her expert tips for growing Halloween pumpkins. Over to Claire!
- Sow seed on its side (that way you don't have to figure out which way up the seed goes) in a pot of compost in April and put it on a window sill. If you want to grow a giant pumpkin, use seed from a giant variety like 'Atlantic Giant'.
- In late May harden off the young pumpkin plants. This just means putting the pots outside in the daytime and bringing them in at night. The plants can then get used to outdoor temperatures without too much of a shock.
- Plant the pumpkin plants outside in early June after all the frosts have finished.
- Pumpkins are really thirsty plants so it is worth sinking a plant pot, or an upside down plastic pop bottle with the end cut off, into the soil and watering into this. This will also help to stop the leaves getting wet during watering, which can cause rot.
- Use tomato feed every month as a boost.
Top tips for pumpkin carving
- Keep Halloween pumpkins somewhere cool and carve them just before you need them.
- Choose a design and draw it onto the pumpkin, rather than going free-hand.
- If you want to create a more intricate or detailed design, you will need scrapers and a selection of knives to work with.
- Carve a range of squashes, pumpkins and gourds to create a themed collection in quirky shapes and sizes.
- Add a punch of personality with Head Gardener Claire's brilliant idea: "If you’re growing your own, once the pumpkin has formed you can score your name into it with a knife. Your name will grow with the pumpkin!" For more ideas and inspiration from Claire, check out Hestercombe's Head Gardener's Instagram.
Pumpkin recipes to try
As the days draw in and the air takes on an autumnal crispness, cosy comfort food is top of the menu. Carve even one pumpkin and you’ll end up with a glut of flesh and seeds and this year, we challenge you to cook it rather than chuck it.
Pumpkin pie is the American classic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy its warm, autumnal taste on this side of the pond too.
If savoury is more your style, how about a hearty bowl of homemade pumpkin soup, which makes a great starter or lunch dish.
If you're trying pumpkin for the first time and aren't sure if you'll be a fan, why not incorporate it into another dish? Rustic roast vegetables, drizzled in olive oil and garnished with herbs, are an excellent choice.
The gardens are ablaze with oranges and reds as autumn takes hold and the hedgerows burst with berries. Crunch through leaves, collect sweet chestnuts and seek out the Golden Pumpkin on our Halloween half-term family trail.