The pumpkin that grew itself
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 23, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Weeds are volunteers. So are the flowers that so delightfully self-seed in the garden and do not have to be replanted year after year. There are always tomato plants popping up around the area where I had my tomato containers the year before. They come from whatever tomatoes fell and did not get cleaned up. Every so often, there is something unaccounted for, a plant with totally unknown origins. Maybe the wind brought the seed or it was delivered by a bird (a nice way of saying it was in bird droppings). Perhaps it was even planted by one of the fairies that dwell in our Fairy Garden. Do not confuse these plants with the different type of volunteer you see in the photo at left. That is one of our granddaughters, a volunteer; i.e. a young person who works in our garden in exchange for hugs and kisses.
My husband and I had one such plant in our rose garden  this year. Never was a seed planted so out-of-place. Or with such serendipity. I first noticed it growing in a spot near the edge of the garden where a rose had died the previous year and had not been replaced. Not sure exactly what it was, but fairly certain it was not just a weed, I let it grow. And grow it did! It took off like a shot.
When we had narrowed the identification down to some kind of squash, we decided it could stay. After all, the missing rose had left a kind of forlorn empty space. My husband was rooting for pumpkin. We had never grown any. Not that we didn't want to, but space is limited and pumpkins need room to roam. I thought zucchini would be nice. It has been a while since I made Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Our son has even offered to buy zucchini if I would make the cake. Any winter squash would have been welcome as they generally store well.
There was room for the main vine along the slate path. All I had to do was train it around the outer stone wall for a bit and then turn it down the pathway. It was just a matter of placing stones at strategic spots. My garden cart would no longer fit along that section, but that was not a big inconvenience. When a secondary vine started, I let it run straight through that section of the garden, right between the rose bushes.
As our volunteer plant began to flower, it gave me a chance to give a little lesson in Plant Biology 101. Husband expected every flower to become a fruit. I explained that the ones with the long stems were male flowers and are usually the first to bloom. Then come the female blossoms, identified by a swelling at their base which will develop into a fruit if the flower is pollinated.
Finally, in the middle of August, a female flower was pollinated and began to grow. It was the sole fruit on that vine. There was one on the secondary vine that started to develop but dried up and dropped off. Within a week, the little fruit started to look like a pumpkin, although it was somewhat long and skinny. So there it was, our first and only pumpkin. I did spray it once with some VeggiePharm®  when I was spraying our patio vegetables . That was the total extent of my involvement in the small miracle of this pumpkin. You would think that a seasoned gardener might take this happening with a grain of salt, but I was fascinated. I guess you can tell by the number of photographs that were available when I decided to write this article.
It was easy to check on our pumpkin's progress, because I rarely miss a daily walk through my rose garden. Would it make a full foot tall? It topped out at 11¼ inches, but with the stem it is 13½. The day it started to color up, I had to stop what I was doing to go back to the house and make a report. That is, after I took a picture. Our family thinks we're nuts, but they chalk it up to old age and medication. Looking back, I guess we were behaving like we had a world record cucurbit (the latin name for a member of the gourd family). In our defense, it is a record for our garden.
We began to agonize over when to harvest our precious pumpkin. Since Dave's Garden is built on top of a mountain of gardening information, I went to a DG friend in Maine for advice. Photos of her beautiful squash harvest (at right) are credentials enough for me. 'I don't pick my pumpkins until the vine looks dead,' she said. 'I try not to pick them until Oct. 1, in hope they will last until Halloween. Doesn't always work.' So that is exactly what I did. After the vines died, on October 5, I cut it off and brought it in to grace our dining room table. You can see the result in the opening thumbnail.
Dear pumpkin had a hole in its backside (now, now, people, I just mean the side that faced the ground) that made us speculate about its keeping power. However, Halloween approached and it showed no signs of softening. It was so pretty on the table, we considered trying to keep it for Thanksgiving. The threat of rot and the urge to carve overcame that pretty quickly. There are so many more creative things to do with a Halloween pumpkin than the traditional Jack-o'-lantern. I knew I had seen some great ideas in a magazine but, of course, could not locate it in the organized clutter I call my home. It was October 30th, so I turned to the web and went to Better Homes & Gardens and found just what I looking for. Something tall and narrow to fit the shape...a haunted house painted black with cutouts for the windows and a large moon. When it was cut open, the walls proved to be very thick and the hole-in-the-bottom didn't even go all the way though to the inside. The carving was easy...windows are mostly straight lines. It's a good thing, too, because I never got to the carving until October 31. There were a lot of compliments from trick-or-treaters, mostly moms or older kids. The little ones just want their candy.
This pumpkin really was a gift, one of the surprises that truly makes gardening a joy. We hope fun and interesting volunteer plants will continue to bless our garden in the future. If it was a fairy pumpkin and we treat our fairies right, maybe they will plant something new for us... next year.
Please take a look at Sally Miller's wonderful article tomorrow, Beginner Pumpkins. It will be a great help to you in case you are not blessed with a volunteer.
In case you missed the other great Pumpkin Week articles that ran earlier here are links:
What looks like a Shmoo and is edible? A Cushaw! by Darius Van d'Rhys (Tuesday, 11/18/08)
Miniature Pumpkins: Big Reasons to Grow This Tiny Beauty by Jeannette Adams (Wednesday, 11/19/08)
Fresh Pumpkin, Perfect for Pie! by Diana Wind (Thursday, 11/20/08)
Pumpkin for Pets by Geoff Stein (Friday, 11/21/08)
Many thanks to pixie62560 for the use of her terrific squash harvest photograph. All other photographs are ©grampapa and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author.
 Please see my previous article, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, for more about my Rose Garden.
 I prefer organic solutions when possible. VeggiePharm® is an organic fungicide/pesticide. I have no other interest in Pharm Solutions, Inc., the manufacturer of this product.
 Please see my previous article, My patio farm diary, the back forty square feet, for more about my patio vegetables.