Clumber Gardener: Sowing the seeds for autumn fun

Pumpkins, gourds and other seasonal decorations adorn the driveway on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Halloween, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Pumpkins, gourds and other seasonal decorations adorn the driveway on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Halloween, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the main autumn attractions in Clumber’s Walled Kitchen Garden are its pumpkins, squashes, marrows and gourds.

These come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and colours and can be sown under glass this month or directly outside in May.

Their flavour also varies; some are quite bland, others hint at nutmeg, avocados, even turnips, a few are described as “slightly nutty”.

They all belong to the cucumber family, have either a bushy or trailing habit of growth and are half hardy, but can be grown outside during the summer.

It is difficult to get agreement on definitions as to what precisely constitutes a gourd, a pumpkin or a squash.

One of the best, describing the difference between a marrow and a courgette, is “about five days”, the time taken for the immature fruits of a courgette to develop into a larger fruited marrow.

The gourds, usually grown as ornamentals for their decorative fruits, rather than as edible plants, will take centre stage in the walled garden this summer and visitors will be able to help us grown them.

Using birch poles collected on the park we have begun constructing a gourd tunnel, which runs the entire 60ft/18metre length of one of the large vegetable beds and on Saturday 26th April, between 11am and 3pm, we will be inviting visitors, especially families, to the walled garden to help construct panels from birch brash which will form the sides of the tunnel.

Then, on Monday 5th May, between 12noon and 3pm, we will be asking younger visitors to sow a gourd seed. The resulting seedling will form part of the gourd tunnel.

Both gourd activities are free. There are the normal admission prices to the park and walled garden. For further information go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park

The basic technique for sowing these gourds and squashes is to sow seed directly into soil which has been weeded, had organic matter such as well rotted manure or leaf mould added to it, and been firmed and levelled.

A sunny spot, sheltered from strong winds is vital. Sow two to three seeds about 1inch/2.5cm deep towards the end of May.

Allow 2ft/60cm between bush varieties and about 4ft/1.2m between trailing forms.

Under glass, seed may be sown into a 3.5ins/9cm pot in late April, gradually hardened off by exposing the seedlings to cooler temperatures, and planted into their permanent positions in early June, after the danger of frosts.

Most seed merchants have gourds and squashes. Two that have a good range are Simply Vegetables, details on www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk and the Organic Gardening Catalogue, on www.OrganicCatalogue.com