Apprehension

A customer came in today, faulting me for a lack of materials for the Halloween holiday.  It could be she was right.  I have no materials that are overtly aimed at the Halloween holiday.  But I believe a thrillingly scary Halloween display is more about the presentation, than the materials.  Any material can be scary, given the right environment.  This client has small children, and they like their front door pots planted for fall.  6 stems of the elegant feather grass from my roof garden makes for a wildly hairy pair of centerpieces that will look just right Halloween night.  The cabbage and kale will look good until the weather turns bitterly cold.

I will confess I am a fan of Halloween.  I do not have kids, but I have better than 300 kids who visit my house Halloween night.  I make my front door landscape as spooky as possible that night-this is part of the fun.  Jenny wrapped this serious antique stone bust in the shop in some open weave burlap erosion mat, and added a little flock of birds.  Ghoulish, isn’t it?  None of the materials are particularly scary-what is scary is what Jenny did with them.  

1 spider is tolerable.  3 spiders is manageable.  Hundreds of spiders will elicit dread.  I buy mine by the hundreds from the Oriental Trading Company.  It is the numbers that count.  Whatever you plan for your Halloween display, do lots.  Hundreds of spiders.  A flock of too many blackbirds.  Lots of grinning pumpkins.  Plenty of webs.  These pumpkins have hemp hairdos; packing materials can be a great source for a Halloween display. Should it get wet and soggy, all the better.      

The materials at the farmers market right now are great.  For a Halloween display, I choose the grass, cabbage and cut pods as they look half dead, or from another planet.  This container planting would never satisfy me over the summer, but it is perfectly in tune with the Halloween season.  The plastic skulls are a contribution from the kids.    

Redbor kale is a dark purple that deepens with colder nights.  We plant plenty of these in fall pots.  Looking to introduce some Halloween apprehension to the mix?  Centerpieces out of vertical, pots of plants laying on the ground, displays askew-horrifying.  My landscape installations aim for square and true. Halloween displays should dispute that idea.  No matter what ordinary materials you have to work with, setting them   off center, up side down, or out of kilter will endow them with a little holiday terror.  Though I do plan to plant these kale that the wind blew over, this is a desolate scene, as is.   

Canadian thistles are a vicious weed- so difficult to eradicate.  That said, I love the seed pods in the fall-as do the goldfinches.  This planting has a dead and prickly centerpiece, some very warty gourds, and some black/ purple eucalyptus-very Halloweenish.   

 I stay away from hay bales.  They are messy beyond all belief, unless they are securely bound up.  I like the wood shavings that are known as excelsior for Halloween. These wood shavings stick together.  The look is great. The cleanup is easy.  I like broomcorn much better than cornshocks-their drying seed heads look great on a windy day.   

Pumpkins do not ordinarily scare anyone. The pumpkins and the gourds are the mainstay of the October harvest season, so they are a natural for Halloween.  What makes them creepy is the carving, and the lighting.  I also like long twisting stems.  If I grew my own pumpkins, I would cut them with as much of the vine and dead leaves intact as possible.     

A Halloween display may need a  little structure-these fence panels fashioned from stout branches are a great backdrop, and provide plenty of hanging opportunities. The fence post finials-romanesco broccoli and birdhouse gourds.  I will admit the giant spider, crows and faux webs are especially creepy-these courtesy of my local Halloween store.   

The most ordinary of materials can help bring a Halloween tableau to life.  When it gets dark, the pumpkins and company will appear to be floating-excellent.  A little ghoulishness is great fun.

Halloween Week, Day 2

Penske 1005 (5)Though I was surprised to hear from this client that Halloween was one of her family’s most important holidays, she had good reasons.  A sister living in Brazil came to visit every Halloween.  The family spent Christmas week skiing, away from home.  Last but not least, she has a slew of kids.  She had boxes of Halloween props-we used them all. A large antique English stone urn took the insult rather well, I thought.  Bamboo dyed black, and a  stick stack of decidedly unnatural color provided perches for three ravens.  Green millet and orange integrifolia clashed noisily.  The giant spiders -they were creepy to look at in broad daylight.

Penske 1005 (4)We would put up the Halloween decorations the beginning of October.  For this reason, the use of wood props and plastic carved pumpkins seemed like a good idea.  Though I am not a big fan of mums, these bushel basket grown plants add big splashes of color.  The skull lights along the walk are a favorite of the kids. 

Penske 1005 (13)Though the scarecrow witch seemed sweet and benign, those spiders create an unmistakeable mood.  We managed to find a spot for every bat, skull and skeleton in my client’s collection.  At Halloween, more is always better.  

Penske 1005 (9)The side porch columns get dressed up in broomcorn, sticks and whatever else is available at market, all of which is held in place with zip ties covered in giant raffia bows. The corn gets zipped  on in three layers, from top to bottom.  Each new layer covers the construction materials of the preceding layer.  I have also dressed tree trunks in similar outfits.

Penske 1005 (17)The side porch door gets the most family traffic in and out, so we give it the full treatment. All of the carved pumpkins are lit from the inside.  Good and spooky night lighting is a key element. 

Penske Halloween (3)Another year we went for more gloom.  Black millet, maroon lettuce and dead grass make a good nest for the spider. New skull lights illuminate the walk.  Don Taylor grew the impossibly long gourds; he trained the vines up and over a pergola, so the fruits would grow upright and down. One gourd was closing in on eight feet long. 

Penske Halloween (2)I bought boxes and boxes of little spiders.  These we attached to every available surface with a hot glue gun.  This was tedious work, but the effect was suitably revolting. At the time this picture was taken, we still had at least 500 spiders yet to stick up.

Penske Halloween (4)The side porch got giant webby garlands of hemp fiber and grapevine. And more spiders.  Amazingly, the big spiders were entirely wired, permitting us to place them in the most threatening positions we could dream up.

Penske Halloween (5)
This sweet little vintage farm girl peeking out of her pumpkin home seems oblivious to the coming invasion of the spiders. Poor thing; pity that!