Guide to growing gourds

The part of the garden that draws most interest at this time of year is the temporary arbour, now abundantly laden with ornamental gourds. Every year in February, we bring back small ash saplings from the estate woods, where they grow like weeds. They’re whippy young stems, sawn off at ground level when they have achieved no more than 1in in diameter, and are flexible. Sixteen poles are arranged in a horseshoe shape, with about 1ft between each. When bent over, their dome-like roof is held together by electric cable ties that are too strong to snap, and a single gourd plant is trained up from the base of each pole. By now, the whole thing looks very decorative particularly this year, because they have relished all the rain and moisture in the air.

The gourd seeds were started off in mid April, two seeds per pot, and then thinned out to leave the strongest seedling in each pot to grow on for a few more weeks before planting out in early June in rich, well-manured soil. We grow a mixture of small gourd varieties, pinching off the side shoots as they grow. The resulting fruits now dangle like Christmas ornaments inside their arbour, and shortly we’ll gather them up to send off to the church’s Harvest Festival, and local schools.

The gourds share a large, square bed of the garden with a range of pumpkins and the summer squash known as Sun-burst, all of which have also thrived this year. The best results have come from the variety Snowman, new to us this year, which bears white pumpkins with very smooth skin; also Rouge vif d’Etampes a traditional, squat pumpkin shape, with reddish skin, which should achieve 10lb?15lb when fully grown. We also have Jack of All Trades, a commonly grown orange one for Halloween, and the fabled Atlantic Giant, the world record for which is apparently 1,021lb, although I’m not priming ours to reach such monstrous proportions. It’s worth remembering to leave about 3in-4in of stem attached to the pumpkins when you harvest them, to make a convenient handle.

The summer bedding and flowers for cutting are at midway point: a number are over now, such as gypsophila and sweet williams, and the beds they are in will now be cleared. Others are reaching their prime, particularly the cannas, chrysanthemums, dahlias and rudbeckias. Rudbeckia Indian Summer is a zesty, warm yellow with a lot of depth to its colour, very cheerful, which we planted together with the very dark purple-leaved Altern-anthera Purple Knight, some bicoloured Coleus, and a near-black millet grass, Pennisetum Purple Majesty.

All of these plants are worth growing for the dramatic contribution they make to indoor arrangements as well as ornamenting the kitchen garden. We also have a curiosity the squirting cucumber, which I happened to notice growing as a miserable specimen in a crevice at Mycenae in Greece, last year. I brought back some seeds, and the couple of plants now growing in the garden are reaching the stage when their fruits will shoot out their seeds with a terrific force.

Although the late summer flowers are at the peak of their beauty, it’s time to think about next spring’s cut flowers, so we have been getting the wallflowers into the ground, which were started from seeds a few weeks ago. I always think that the wallflower (Cheiranthus) Bedding Mixed (Thompson & Morgan stocks seeds) is the one most worth growing, because you don’t need to pinch out the tips to make the plants bushy they do it of their own accord, making 18in tall plants by next spring. An alternative,

of slightly shorter stature, is Persian Carpet Mix (

Although it’s a bit late to be starting off wallflower seeds by this time of year, the garden centres will just be beginning to sell bunches of young plants for planting straight out. Ours are in a dozen or so rows, with the plants spaced about 12in apart in each direction enough room for them to grow, and also for us to hoe down the rows periodically.