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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Decorating outdoor space with wild, wacky pumpkins

It’s time to decorate our outdoor spaces for fall. With the amazing selection of pumpkins, gourds and squash available, it couldn’t be easier.

First let’s answer the question that begs to be asked: What’s the difference between pumpkins, squash and gourds? They are all members of the Cucurbita plant family.

Squash is broken into two groups: Summer squash with tender skin and moist flesh and winter squash with hard skin and dry flesh. The term pumpkin was traditionally saved for round and orange Cucurbita family members, and gourds are hard-skinned and fleshy.

If used for culinary purposes, the differences are important as their flavors and textures vary. But when used for decorative purposes, who cares? There are so many beautiful and unique varieties ideal for fall decorating available today. Here are some of my favorites.

White pumpkins are a versatile choice. They can create an eerie or elegant ambiance. Valenciano is a medium-sized pumpkin with deep ribs. Cotton Candy is a smooth-surfaced small pumpkin great for painting or carving. Full Moon is the ‘great white’ of pumpkins. White Borer is a medium, very flat pumpkin perfect for stacking. Baby Boo is a deeply ribbed cutie rarely reaching more than 3 inches across.

Other miniatures perfect for little hands or tabletop arrangements include Sweet Lightning – striped white and orange; Jack Be Little – orange; Wee Be Little – the perfect tiny orange pumpkin; Bat Wings – dark green around stem and base; and Lil’ Orange Mon – orange with golden yellow mottling – just to name a few.

You can never have too many pumpkins, especially if you choose the variety called One Too Many. Some would describe its coloring as a bloodshot eye, but I think its reddish veining has an overall soft pastel appearance that blends beautifully with white or orange pumpkins.

Blue, gray and green pumpkins are weird and wonderful. Green Warties are flattened, dark green pumpkins covered with bumps. Blue Doll is a deeply ribbed, medium blue variety. Jarrahdale is similarly shaped, but gray in color.

If you prefer softer colors in your pumpkin displays, pastel pretties include Long Island Cheese, Galeux d’Eysines, and Tandy. They all boast soft coral or peach skin. Long Island Cheese is smooth and deeply ribbed. Galeux d’Eysines is also deeply ribbed but is covered with warts that look like peanut shells. Tandy is small and smooth. Even traditional orange pumpkins have gone wild. Cinderella pumpkins are flattened and deeply ribbed. All potential princesses should have at least one nearby in case their fairy godmothers happen by.

Knuckleheads have large bumps on medium-sized pumpkins. They make wacky jack-o-lanterns. Red Warty Things are covered with lumpy bumpy dark orange skin.

And then there are all the gourds – Lunch Ladies, Winged and Warted, Daisies, Gremlins and Cosmic Stars.

• Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166.

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