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Pumpkins good for more than eating

When we think of pumpkins, probably most of us think of them as lanterns, with comical carved faces. Or pie.

Today, let's expand our imaginations a bit and consider these hard-shelled fruits of fall as decorative displays. I don't mean just a pile of them on the porch, but as a way to make use of, in a decorative way, other items in your autumn yard.

A stroll through the growers market, a fruit stand, or even the grocery store will reveal interesting gourds, pumpkins and winter squash in many colors and shapes. Notice the bluish-skinned Hubbard squash, pumpkins of many sizes — some with white skins — and gourds of every color and shape. You'll also find — in your yard and at the market places mentioned above — rose hips, colorful leaves, perhaps some grape vines with or without grapes still on them, ornamental grasses, vines of various types, acorns, little pine cones, and maybe even some pretty weeds.

Many flowers are still lovely, if they are not frost-tender. Think zinnias, asters, chrysanthemums, hydrangea, dahlias and sedum, to name just a few. Notice how their colors complement the deep greens and oranges of those pumpkins, gourds and squash.

Think of those big, fall fruits as containers or vases. They will hold water very well. Just cut a hole in a squash, for example, scoop out the seeds, and there is your vase to hold a fall bouquet. With irregular shapes such as the Hubbard squash, find its most steady position, keeping in mind that the hole you cut does not need to be at the stem and will often work better on the side.

A good child's project might be to prepare a pumpkin as if it were going to be a vase, but instead of filling it with water, fill it with moss and arrange rose hips, little pine cones, acorns and the like on the top. Adding a few small plants, still in their little pots, and sinking them into the moss, will give the creation a more garden-like appearance. Miniature ceramic figures, or some made from chenille sticks, are fun for kids to add, too.

For a striking centerpiece on the dining table or coffee table, choose a large pumpkin and several larger flowers, such as chrysanthemums. At the craft store, purchase florist vials — the number will depend on the size of your pumpkin. The vials are a bit like miniature vases that look like little test tubes. With a small, sharp knife, cut a band of holes around the pumpkin, just large enough to push the vials into the pumpkin. Fill the vials with water, and into each one insert a mum whose stem has been cut to about 2 inches.

Granted, these decorative uses for fall bounty are not permanent vases, but they sure are fun to make! As you see, pumpkins aren't just for jack-o'-lanterns. Or pie.

Coming up: Information and a registration packet for the Jackson County Master Gardener all-day gardening symposium "Winter Dreams, Summer Gardens," to be held Saturday, Nov. 2, at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, can be obtained by calling 541-776-7371.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.