• iPlantsman

Halloween - My Top 10 Plants to create a Halloween vibe in your Garden.

I enjoyed thinking through the plants I have selected here. I'm not sure if there are other similar posts from garden writers out there, though I suspect so. Will be interesting to see how many overlaps in plant selection appear (hopefully not many).


Jack o'lantern

Anyway, down to business, with a little double, double, toil and trouble... (always feels like it should be 'bubble, bubble' rather than 'double, double', but I imagine Shakespeare knew what he was thinking and it made sense to him at least).


Pumpkin patch in Kent 2021
Pumpkin patch in Kent 2021

Thought that I would write about plants for a Halloween theme and set to thinking about plants in flower or are looking good on the 31st of October in the UK. There are quite a few, more than you might initially think in flower, though didn't fit the theme of Halloween, so were abandoned; instead, I thought about spooky looking, or sounding (name of plant) to select my Top 10. While some excellent choices such as such Crocosmia 'Lucifer' immediately sprung to mind, they have long finished flowering by the end of October, so didn't make the cut. Neither did Agapanthus 'Black Magic', which for me at least, has finished flowering by October. I also haven't included any of the conifers or dwarf trees created out of grafting 'Witches' Broom' growth which can appear on larger plants. Felt this was perhaps just a bit too nebulous. Finally, I have only included plants that can be reliably grown outdoors in the UK. The exception to this is the Fuchsia, which is not hardy, so is either grown as an annual bedding plant or overwintered in a frost-free environment for protection.


Here are my spooktacular Top 10 Halloween themed plants to grow in your garden;


1.

Pumpkin growing

Cucurbita pepo varieties (Pumpkins and Gourds Well, obviously!)

Not a great deal to say about the now ubiquitous Pumpkin, other than there really are lots of Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourd species that you can grow as annual crops in the UK from seed sown spring. Some are better flavoured than others, but all can be carved if you are so inclined. They have a high requirement for water to grow, so can be a bit needy, especially in drier areas. I think growing them directly into a Compost heap is often a good idea. The heat, moisture and endless root run seems to work more than it fails. I'm a big fan of Patty Pan Squash 'Disco' to eat and it looks cool too, though is too small to make much of display pumpkin at Halloween. In the UK, traditionally we used Turnips, Swedes (the yellow turnip, not the people) and Mangelwurzels (look it up).


Pumpkin Flower and pollinating Bee
Pumpkin Flower and pollinating Bee

2.

Physalis - Chinese Lanterns

Physalis alkekengi (now Alkekengi officinarum) (Chinese Lantern)

An interesting herbaceous perennial plant in autumn and worth growing for the papery covering of the fruit, which look like hanging orange lanterns - I like when the skeletonise during the winter as pictured above and below. Now separated from the Genus Physalis, which includes Physalis peruviana (Cape Gooseberry, that odd fruit placed on the plate by a dessert in a restaurant), it is related, but not directly and I don't recommend eating the fruit. You can grow the Cape Gooseberry in the UK as an annual plant, but Alkekengi officinarum is a perennial and so easier to keep, if only to look at and not to eat.




3.

Apple 'Red Devil' - Credit Keepers Nursery
Apple 'Red Devil' - Credit Keepers Nursery

Malus domestica 'Red Devil' (Eating Apple)

Could hardly discuss Halloween without mentioning Witches or the Devil. Malus domestica is the name for our eating and cooking apples. Red Devil is a particularly noteworthy variety, with both skin and flesh being red in colour. The flesh is crisp, sweet and juicy with 'strawberry notes' in flavour and red flush in colour. As with other apples, select the form and rootstock you require to get a tree of a suitable size to your garden and your needs. This is an excellent choice as it is self-fertile, so you need not grow other apples in your garden and can still expect good fruiting. Here is a link to Keepers Nursery website to buy this plant or read more and another link to a previous article on apples, which discusses rootstock and forms. Alternatively would make a good gift for a Manchester United football fan.



4.

Fuchsia 'Voodoo'

Fuchsia 'Voodoo' (Bedding Fuchsia)

The only tender plant on the list, but worthy of being on it nonetheless as an excellent bedding Fuchsia with big visual impact. Large flowers in red and purple hang well and indeed the plant has a fairly lax nature more suited to being grown in a hanging basket where hanging stems and flowers will be shown off well. Can be overwintered if kept pretty dry in a frost free greenhouse, or conservatory (even a cool windowsill indoors will do). Like most Fuchsia, given time to develop woodier stems and grow in size and it will be more impressive year on year. Useful plant for long season of flower for both the gardener and pollinating insects.



5.

Eryngium 'Silver Ghost' growing through Persicaria vacciniifolia
Eryngium 'Silver Ghost' growing through Persicaria vacciniifolia

Eryngium giganteum 'Silver Ghost'

I love a thistle! For me, Eryngium, are the best of the garden thistles, being pretty diverse in shape, habit and form and largely pretty easy to grow to great visual impact. Eryngium giganteum is an easy species and varieties of it are all fairly similar in appearance (in my opinion, i.e. all pretty handsome indeed) growing to around 75-90cm (2'6" - 3'). It needs sun and well-drained soil in which it will put down a tap root and establish itself. Seedlings will appear near the plant and s they are relatively short-lived perennials, it is advisable to always have some seedlings left unweeded to grow in place of a tiring parent plant. Personally, I let them seed freely. Ghostly-white in appearance and flowers persist long into the winter, dying and drying themselves in situ.



6.

Kniphofia 'Redhot Popsicle'

Kniphofia Popsicle Series (Red Hot Poker)

The popularity of the Red Hot Poker has always been fairly turbulent, largely because until recently (well the last 15 years or so), we didn't have many varieties to choose from and most were large plants that take over in small spaces. Lots of excellent plant breeding has been undertaken and smaller, more compact forms are now readily available and in a range of colours, the Popsicle Series is to my mind, the best of the new kids on the block, with Reds, Oranges and Yellows available and all less than 1m (3'3") tall. I think overall, I prefer the lime-green flowered Kniphofia, though this isn't a colour in the Popsicle series yet. 'Vanilla Orange Popsicle' & 'Pineapple Popsicle' are probably my favourites from the series, but all are good (K. 'Redhot Popsicle' pictured above). You could also double-down on the Halloween theme and instead go for Kniphofia 'Pumpkin Bodacious', K. 'Happy Halloween' or K. 'Brimstone'. Grow in sun and make sure they don't get too dry or overcrowded as you will sacrifice flowering.



7.

Hamamelis virginiana - Autumn flowering Witch-Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana (Autumn Flowering Witch-Hazel)

Most gardeners in the UK, will be well aware of Witch-Hazel as a winter-flowering shrub or tree. Many will be aware that as well as the most commonly seem yellow-flowered forms, there are also myriad varieties producing orange, bicolour, or even purpley-red flowers. Far fewer people will be aware that there is a species of Hamamelis that flowers in Autumn rather than Winter. Hamamelis virginiana is a North American species which flowers (depending on where grown) between October and December. Unlike many of the most popular varieties and certainly all of the newer selections, the flowers tend to be fairly small and less impactful (shall we say) than others. Pale yellow with decent scent, but often produced when the plant is still in leaf, it is a large shrub or small, broad tree, so is perhaps not for most gardens in terms of size, but is interesting without doubt.



8.

Eupatorium 'Phantom' (Dwarf Joe-Pye Weed)

Many herbaceous Eupatorium are on the large-side, with impressive stands seen by the edge of large ponds or the back of well-composted long-borders in the gardens of stately homes. The variety 'Phantom' other than having a great cultivar name, is also more practical for most gardeners as it is half the size of typical Eupatorium maculatum hybrids at only 1.2m (4') tall and perhaps as wide, fully grown. Drinks a fair amount of water, so best in a moisture-retentive soil and does well near a natural pond or area prone to flooding. Great flower in late-summer through to autumn. A purple coloured bud opening to a very wiry, white flower, giving an overall, pale-purple look to the flowerhead.



9.

Hypericum 'Magical Flame Red'

Hypericum x inodorum 'Magical Red Flame' ('Kolmaref' PBR) (St. John's Wort)

The hugely underrated genus of Hyoericum are due a resurgence in popularity and varieties of Hypericum x inodorum seem likely to be the source of new fans as they are compact, less invasive, very free-flowering and produce lots of handsome fruit (which are not edible). A bit of magic in your garden and not just at Halloween: in fact, they will be flowering and ripening fruit for months from around May/June through to the first strong frosts. As the temperature starts to drop at night, you will notice a deepening in colour of the foliage too, which can become a rich, plum-purple. A few years ago, these were being sold as half-hardy, but I see them reliably going through UK winters now without many failures. Particularly good in a dull spot, where most other plants won't thrive.



10.

Erica x darleyensis 'Ghost Hills'

Erica x darleyensis 'Ghost Hills' (Darley Dale Heath/Heather)

Ghosts and ghouls make a good Halloween and while Heathers and Heaths have lost popularity in recent years, they are well-worth growing, especially as a significant source of pollen in low pollen seasons. 'Ghost Hills', like a lot of Erica x darleyensis varieties is commonly in flower in October-May (though don't open when below about 2˚C), though in some gardens, I find it can be in flower at almost any time of the year. Best given a light trim after a good flush of flower (imagine you are doing the job of a sheep or goat trimming this growth to encourage new leaf and flower production on a hill or mountain-side. Masses and it will be masses of tiny, ghostly-pale-pink flowers over a long season sit on top of the dark, evergreen leaves. Will get gnarled in shape and woody when older, especially if not trimmed each year; personally I like this, but a lot of people like nice and neat hummocks of plant - it's up to you. Acid soil is prefered. Avoid chalky soils, though despite their name, Erica (as in Ericaceous - Acid Loving) can actually take a bit of chalk without any real problems.



All too real for you and not scary enough? Perhaps you should buy this instead...







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