Neighbors taking a drive around town in the days immediately following Oct. 31 will inevitably spot clusters of squashed pumpkins and sunken jack-o’-lanterns adorning the curbs. Every year after Halloween, the fate of these seasonal fruits falls in the hands of the city’s yard trash pickup professionals. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, a few pumpkins can be spotted sitting on porch steps or decoratively arranged on dining room tables, but most disappear by Nov. 30 and are not given much thought until the following October unless those forgotten pumpkin seeds have other plans.
Marnie Drummond, a Columbia resident, is a self-professed pumpkin aficionado. “I love pumpkins. I’d gather them here and there. I hate to get rid of them,” she says. To Marnie, pumpkins are a plant that should be enjoyed perennially. The heritage, or heirloom, varieties are characterized by their stumpy, unusual shape and splattered, sometimes veiny coloration atop green, orange, and gray bases. In the Drummond home, they offer a charming, quirky accent unmatched by other seasonal decor. Marnie has even been known to have pumpkins on her back porch at Christmas — the heartiest of which last until late winter, she says.
In March 2019, when the time came for Marnie to bid farewell to the remainder of her back porch pumpkins, she decided to give them a second shot. She tossed the last of the lot that she had purchased five months prior — shell, seed, and stem — into a compost bed on the side of her yard, inviting nature to take its course. As time passed and the weather warmed, the pumpkins sank into the loamy soil of the compost heap, germinated, and began to reappear as small green sprouts. Shortly thereafter, blossoms, leaves, pumpkins, and vines covered the area, filling in the gaps of a yard already bursting with flora and fauna. Sunflowers, zinnias, muscadines, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, wildflowers, and chickens take up the rest of the real estate in her backyard garden.
Since having plucked her first pumpkin from the vine in 2019, Marnie has continued to promote the volunteer pumpkin patch that took root in her backyard. The plants require minimal upkeep, she says, crediting the successful growth of her homegrown gourds to the mix of soil, sun, and shade in the compost corner of her yard. “I didn’t plant them; it’s not like I dug holes,” she says plainly.
She estimates that if she were to scoop the seeds out of the barrel of the pumpkins and carefully place them in equally spaced holes, she could probably have a bigger harvest. At this point, though, she describes her passion for pumpkins to be more of a fun hobby than a serious venture. Her role in the growth cycle consists primarily of getting the pumpkins to the right spot in the soil, occasionally giving them a sprinkle of water, and propping them up with bricks or a ladder so that, as their weight starts to strain the vine, they can continue to grow to full maturation.
Marnie’s heirloom pumpkins are plump and full of personality. They are more squatty than tall, striped, and splattered, and their ribs are curvaceous and prominently defined. They average 12 to 14 inches in diameter though Marnie has grown minis, too. Her volunteer pumpkin patch has yielded anywhere from four to eight pumpkins per year: far from a full-fledged harvest but enough to use for decorating her hearth and distributing to children, grandchildren, and friends.
She would love to grow a giant pumpkin — suitable in size, say, for Cinderella’s carriage — but will need to make space in her garden before that can happen. For now, she will keep collecting pumpkins and watch them cycle through season after season of seed, sprout, flower, and fruit. This year after the autumnal season comes to a close, consider tossing your pumpkin in a forgotten corner of the yard. Who knows? You may just start a pumpkin patch come spring.