Come to RHS Garden Wisley this autumn to be wowed by the sheer variety of pumpkins and squashes that form the centrepiece of the straw maze created for our Harvest Weekend.
These garden-grown pumpkins and squashes, which have already travelled to the RHS London Harvest Show, are on display at Wisley (near the Hilltop Event Centre) as the ‘reward’ for finding your way through our straw bale maze. The wide range of pumpkins and squashes in the display include some of my favourites – ‘Marina di Chioggia’, ‘Tonda Padana’ and ‘Crown Prince’. These are all extremely tasty and have the added bonus of being highly ornamental too.
‘Marina di Chioggia’, an old Italian variety from the 1600s, is named after a fishing village near Venice, where it is grows extremely well. I love the beautiful sea-green colour of its gnarled, warty skin, which echoes the shades of the shimmering Adriatic Sea near its origins (fittingly, its other name is the Sea Pumpkin). But I love it even more for its fantastic-tasting intense orange flesh. In Venice, it’s cut into strips and grilled covered in olive oil and rosemary and eaten as a delicious street snack. Wisley’s vegetable gardener, Italian Mario De Pace, agrees that this is “one of the best-tasting pumpkins” and uses it to make delicious soup.
Another favourite pumpkin is ‘Tonda Padana’, from Italy’s Po River Valley, which has decorative green and white stripes and sweet flesh that’s great for pies and soups. I also like ‘Crown Prince’, a decorative squash, with shiny blue-grey skin. This has the RHS Award of Garden Merit, with the winter squash trial judges commenting on its “excellent storage quality” and “high flesh content of deep orange colour with excellent flavour”.
Other squashes awarded the AGM include ‘Celebration’, ‘Honey Bear’, ‘Sweet Dumpling’ and ‘Sweet Lightning’. These last four squashes are fairly small (think of a large cooking apple size), easy to grow and produce sweet-tasting fruits. They are ideal for microwaving or roasting whole – but cut the top off first, otherwise they could explode! It’s best to scoop the seeds out too.
What's on at Wisley
Award of Garden Merit