5th February 2020
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From seed to sapling, Parham Gardener Max Crisfield tells us about the creation of the spectacular Pumpkin Tunnel that has been so popular with our Garden visitors.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Pumpkin Tunnel and how it was created?
We have sown and planted 100 different varieties (three of each) of pumpkins and winter squash, ranging from the huge Atlantic Giants to the mini climbing varieties, Munchkin and Sweet Dumpling. Because they are all growing up and alongside an 80 foot long birch tunnel, many of the varieties inevitably become intertwined, so we haven’t treated this as a proper trial – as it would be too difficult to keep track of and to label individually.
The Pumpkin Tunnel was more about fun than anything. We just want visitors to be amazed at the sheer range of what’s available in the world of pumpkins, in terms of size, shape, texture and colour.
I had this vision of a quite an immersive experience, with people being surrounded by pumpkins from all angles. I really wanted them to grow right up to the top and hang down above people’s heads, but I think that was perhaps a little ambitious in the English climate (they manage to pull this off magnificently in places like Singapore!). The tunnel was built back in March from silver birch saplings coppiced from the estate here. It took about three weeks to construct, as it all had to be woven together by hand. We tried out three of four different designs before we came up with the final build, as we had terrible visions of the whole thing being blow down in the August winds. Luckily it has held up really well.
Have the pumpkins needed a lot of care / maintenance?
The hardest thing really was getting them going. They were all grown from seed in the greenhouses back in the spring so took up a huge amount of room and a lot of time, pricking them out and keeping them well watered in the heat of the late spring/early summer. They were then all hardened off outside before planting out in their final places in early June. Then it was a case of watering and feeding well for the first few weeks while they got their roots down. Maintenance wise, once a week I have been tying the small climbing ones onto the birch frames to help train them upwards.
Have you learnt anything new about pumpkins?
I think it’s been the response from the public who seem to find them endlessly fascinating and sometimes quite hilarious!
Do you have a favourite variety?
I love the little mini pumpkins like Munchkin, Sweet Lightning and Sweet Dumpling, and the red and orange onion squash, Uchi Kuri.
What will happen to the final pumpkins? Will you grow the best performing ones next year?
We have lots of ideas. A number of pumpkins will be used and served on the menu in the Big Kitchen. We are also looking to provide some for schools and hopefully for charities too.
I will definitely be looking to grow some of the varieties next year, though for my money, in terms of flavour, you really can’t go wrong with the old favourites like Crown Prince and Turk’s Turban.