Reality squashed her dream of homegrown Halloween jack-o’-lanterns

The Rozens’ crop of Halloween squash, displayed above the store-bought pumpkin of the writer’s dreams.

I was feeling so crabby that I could have spit pumpkin seeds — if, of course, I’d actually been able to grow squash big enough to produce seeds. A friend recently asked if she could borrow some of my pumpkins to use as table decorations for a church dinner. If the tables had been small TV trays instead of banquet size, my miniature squash would have rocked as centerpieces. Instead, I had to apologize for the latest in my annual pumpkin-related pratfall.

I really believed this would be the year of the Rozen jack-o’-lanterns. By early July, the pumpkin seedlings I’d planted in June had become leafy plants with healthy vines, although a conspicuous absence of flowers. Late bloomers, I thought, and sighed in relief when several tiny fruit finally appeared. The squash grew well for a few more weeks, but I already knew there would be no Atlantic Giant pumpkins lurking in the raised beds. I excused their midsummer recess because I was sure my pumpkins would have plenty of time to bulk up before Halloween. Still, pep talks couldn’t hurt. “Way to go, you fabulous squash,” I praised them in early September. “Pretty soon you’ll be as big and chubby as BBK.” I should have realized that reaching the size and rounded perfection of my chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, was too daunting a challenge to accept.

At the end of September, I switched to daily lectures, easy scripts for me because I’ve been a mother for more than 40 years. “Did you know that more than 150 trick-or-treaters normally come to our house? If you want to grow up to be big, healthy jack-o’-lanterns, you have to keep drinking your water and absorbing the vitamins in your compost. Imagine how awesome you’d look on Halloween night, sitting on the front porch, glowing with candles.” But no matter how much I urged those gourds to gorge themselves before the big night, they stalled out. When our kids were teenagers, I lost plenty of power struggles, but coming out the loser with a bunch of pumpkins was a major blow.

Ten days before Halloween, I faced reality and made my annual Car Trip of Shame to a market, where I bought the pumpkins of my dreams: jade green, ghostly white, pastel pink, neon orange splashed with bumpy green blobs, and a multicolored turban squash, which I placed as a hat on top of the white one. I arranged those hefty, store-bought pumpkins in a colorful grouping on our front porch, and then displayed my homegrown pipsqueaks above them on a little table, high enough to be visible. The photo accompanying this column illustrates why, again this year, my husband had to buy his Halloween carving pumpkin.

Sydney Craft Rozen feels an unsettling kinship with Linus of “Peanuts,” alone in the midnight garden, still waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Email her at

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