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The Halloween garden: more than just pumpkins!

It’s almost time for Halloween again, and your landscape can play a significant role in the fun and games... and not simply by providing trees for the local kids to drape with toilet paper.

Pumpkins, in the form of Jack o’ Lanterns, can be seen on front porches across America at this time of year. But it might surprise you to know that pumpkins weren’t the first veggies to get carved into weird and grotesque designs.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, English and Irish country folk would carve the faces of demons into large beets and turnips. They would also hollow out the insides and place a glowing coal inside to create an eerie glow that was intended to keep away evil spirits.

When waves of immigrants arrived in the United States, they naturally brought with them their Halloween traditions. But they quickly discovered that those big orange pumpkins were a whole lot easier to carve!

So if you want to get in touch (literally) with your roots, dig up a large beet or turnip and start carving. But it might be safer to replace the red-hot coal with a tea light!

If you are fortunate enough to have apple trees gracing your landscape, you can use that fruit as part of your Halloween celebration, too. Any Druids who happen to be reading this will know that apples were used as decoration at this time of year as part of their festival known as Samhain that was a celebration of a successful harvest.

A large bowl of home-grown apples, with their beautiful fall colors of red, amber and gold, makes an attractive table decoration... and of course the ingredients for the ultimate home-baked apple pie.

If you’re planning a Halloween party, you might want to include a game of bobbing for apples, a wet, messy (but fun) activity that literally dates back hundreds of years. If you want to be really traditional, allow each of the young partygoers to peel the apple they capture. They need to do this carefully in order to get a very long single piece of peel. (To save cut fingers and frustration, you might want to “help” with this part of the game!) Then they take it in turns to throw the long piece of peel over their shoulders. Folklore says that the peel will form the initial of the first name of the person they will marry. Which might explain why you don’t see the name Xerxes in the wedding announcements very often...

If all this apple talk is making your mouth water, think about planting some of your own apple trees. There are some fast-growing varieties available now that are fairly easy to plant and care for, but remember that you will need two varieties for cross pollination. One of my favorites is the Golden Yellow Delicious. I happen to think that its fruit is as close to sensational as you can get, with a crisp, extra-juicy flavor.

Another apple tree that I’d recommend is the Red Stayman Winesap. The fruit is excellent for dessert use and the deep red color looks wonderful in that table decoration I mentioned. It has a wine-spicy flavor and excellent keeping qualities.

If you’d like some specific advice about which varieties of apple tree would work best in your area and soil and weather conditions, drop an e-mail to [email protected] with a few details and I’ll offer some suggestions.

After an evening of Trick or Treating, a hot baked potato is a delightful and tasty way to warm up. And it might delay the consumption of all that chocolate loot the kids came home with. Prick the potatoes with a fork, scrub them, and while they’re still damp, roll them in salt to draw out the moisture and create a fluffy texture as they cook.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover a baking sheet with sprigs of home grown rosemary from your container herb garden. Place the potatoes on the bed of herbs and drizzle with a little olive oil. The potatoes will be ready in about an hour... and your house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of warm rosemary!

If you want to find out how to create your own easy-care container herb garden, go to www.landteward.org click on “The Plant Man” and scroll down to find several previous columns on the subject.

Pumpkins, beets, turnips, apples, rosemary... Whatever you choose, have a safe and fun Halloween!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org