The Great Pumpkin, revealed

I’d like to tell you that I have a very simple philosophy for living, but in truth, I am a woman of many corollaries. Among these is that I believe strongly in taking leaps of faith—trying things out just because they have potential. The way I see it, at worst, I end up with a lot of good stories to tell. Or I move to Iowa. Or both. See how this works?

There are others like me. They might not move to Iowa, but they do things like grow ten-foot-long gourds or 1,400-pound pumpkins, just because they can. This goes well beyond growing a tomato bigger than my hand, or even beyond my fellow blogger Michelle’s quest to grow the perfect pumpkin in her own back yard. These people have taken a huge leap of gardening faith, and as a result, have a great story to tell.

Backyard Giants coverSusan Warren, who is a deputy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, followed the 2006 giant pumpkin growing season in Backyard Gardeners: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever, which hits bookstores tomorrow. From the challenges of weather to disease to outright sabotage, Warren chronicles everything that can go wrong—and the miracle when things go right—for those growers obsessed with these behemoths.

I received an advance reading copy of Backyard Giants from one of the author’s friends, and agreed to take a look at it just because the concept intrigued me. Giant pumpkin growers do their thing exclusively for the glory—it’s not these bad boys end up good for making pie, and even carving them is a challenge, and as the book discloses, often the giant pumpkins don’t even come close to resembling the Cinderella-carriage ideal.

Susan’s book vines through the stories of several growers, but focuses primarily on Ron and Dick Wallace, a father-son team on a quest to break the world record for Big Pumpkins. Besides bringing with it the coveted orange jacket that, presumably, is really only appropriate to wear to a pumpkin-themed gathering, growing the biggest pumpkin of the season brings with it the attention of this select group of fanatical growers, a certain amount of prize money, and the satisfaction of knowing one has accomplished the impossible.

There is always a slow point in the growing season (although, I have to say, with just under two years of growing seasons under my belt, I’m probably not qualified to say “always…”), and the book does have a central section that seemed to hover longer than necessary on the minutia of pumpkin growing, but the action gains momentum rapidly toward the end of the book. By the end, even as the pumpkins’ growth slows, the action carries forward, leading to a most satisfying conclusion.

Whether you long for the Great Pumpkin’s appearance or not, Backyard Giants is an interesting look into a world of obsession and, for many, total futility. Whether you’re a gardener or not, I don’t know anyone who can’t identify with the quest to make something totally improbable happen in their life. As tomato season gives way to a more pumpkin-like time of year, I encourage you to check out Backyard Giants.

14 Responses to “The Great Pumpkin, revealed”

  1. 1 Michelle September 3, 2007 at 10:59 am

    You got one too! Nice isn’t it? Thanks for the link and lovely new header!

  2. 2 inadvertentgardener September 3, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Michelle, I did! I did! It’s definitely a good read. Glad you enjoyed it, too!

  3. 3 Lydia September 3, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Sounds like a book to put on my to-read list!

  4. 4 inadvertentgardener September 3, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Lydia, I definitely think you would enjoy it!

  5. 5 Robin (Bumblebee) September 3, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    This is definitely on my reading list. It’s odd how my reading tastes have shifted from fiction to gardening books since I began seriously gardening.

    Now if we could just combine gardening with a little thrill adventure…

    Robin (Bumblebee)

  6. 6 inadvertentgardener September 3, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Robin, you know…my tastes have shifted, too — I’m definitely reading books I would have never cared about before. Do you know about the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club? If not, you should check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

  7. 7 steven September 4, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    It must be a guy thing, but I enjoyed the minutia, I’m fairly sure I’m going to give growing a giant a try next year; an edible organically grown one.

  8. 8 inadvertentgardener September 4, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Steven, you totally should! I’m actually pretty fascinated, but the thought of having to get rid of the thing at the end of the season deters me. Still…the thought of seeing something gain that much weight every day in the garden is pretty cool…

  9. 9 Katiez September 4, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I don’t want a giant pumpkin…just a tasty one so I can make some breads and pies this winter…
    But I am rather intrigued by that whole phenomena…I may just have to read this… on to the wishlist!

  10. 10 inadvertentgardener September 5, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Katiez, tasty pumpkins rule. Which reminds me…it is approaching time to start buying and cooking and pureeing the pumpkin. The fresh stuff is so much better than the canned!

  11. 11 jenjen September 7, 2007 at 11:02 am

    The best thing about pumpkins is -The Pumpkin Show! I work in circleville ohio, home of the famous fall festival by that name. And let me tell you what, that week we eat pumpkin everything and it is good. The high point of the festival is the great pumpkin weigh in where they have these 1000 lb punkins. And the people in the area that grow them, we watch their gardens all summer, driving by and ogling humungous punkins and guessing who will win. Its lots of fun. google it if you like theres a web site with lots of pics.

  12. 12 inadvertentgardener September 7, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Jenjen, thanks for the tip on the pumpkin festivities! Sounds like a ton of fun. Do they have pumpkin funnel cake?

  13. 13 Katherine September 11, 2007 at 9:59 am


    Sorry I am so behind on my blog-reading, but I’ve got to get this book! It looks really fun. Thanks for sharing.

    People in South Florida seem to get into Halloween in an “over0the-top” kind of way and the charity-run “pumpkin patches” here are always quite something. I think it is because it’s too hot to really grow them here, so they are a novelty, in a way.

    Also, transplants like myself love those reminders of the seasonal changes that don’t really happen here.


  14. 14 inadvertentgardener September 11, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Katherine, pumpkin patches get over the top everywhere, I think, as are all things Halloween-y. I was dismayed recently to notice the local drugstore had Halloween stuff out already…in August! Ridiculous!

    You definitely ought to check out the book — I think you’d really like it.

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