Kew’s Pumpkin Pyramid is a longstanding tradition. This year, with our IncrEdibles festival it is more relevant than ever! Kew pumpkin expert Max Warren discovers what makes this one so special.
Among the most spectacular of all autumn fruits are the pumpkins, gourds and squashes. The plants that produce them are all members of the Cucurbitaceae – the cucurbit family – which also includes cucumbers, melons, marrows and loofahs. In total, the family consists of 100 genera and almost 700 species.
This year’s pyramid and the surrounding displays include around 5,000 pumpkins and have been over a month in the making. The Pyramid is in the Waterlily House which is traditionally closed at this time of year. Many of the waterlilies have been relocated to the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
The Pumpkin Pyramid (Photo: Andrew McRobb)
The Four Corners of the World
In each corner of the Waterlily House there’s a pumpkin display portraying ingredients and recipes from around the world (each corner representing one of the four corners of the globe). there are signs describing the species found in that part of the world along with mouth-watering recipes, from Pumpkin Tempura to Pumpkin Pie.
The Pumpkin potjie display and recipe (Photo: Andrew McRobb)
Growing your own
Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow at home. Seeds from most pumpkins and squashes are usually viable for 4-5 years. The seeds should be sown between mid April and mid May in warm (16-24°C) humid conditions. For the best plants, sow a single seed in small pot of peat-free multipurpose compost. Most seed will germinate within a few days. Once the last frost is past at the end of May or June, the ground should be warm enough to plant out the young potted plants. Any good soil with plenty of garden compost added should provide ideal conditions for a good crop.
Space the plants about 1 metre apart. Until the plants spread out and cover the ground, keep the rows weed free with regular cultivation. Pinch out growth tips once the desired number of fruits has formed to restrict the size of the plant.
Water regularly, particularly in dry conditions. This is essential if large fruit is required. Reducing the number of fruit to one or two per plant will also ensure larger fruit.
Many pumpkins and squash take a minimum of 95 to 100 days to mature though some need between 120 to 130 days. In late September, remove excess foliage to give the fruit a better chance of ripening in the autumnal sun.
the Pyramid is crowned by one of the most popular species of pumpkin, the Cinderella or Cucurbita pepo. Cucurbita pepo has been cultivated for its edible fruits for thousands of years and remains a crop plant of great economic importance today. An extensive range of cultivars is available, including those grown to produce fruits for Halloween lanterns and pumpkin pies, courgettes (zucchinis), marrows, many types of squashes and ornamental gourds. It's certainly earned its pride of place at the top of the Pyramid! (Read more about Cucurbita pepo.)
"Cinderella" the pumpkin (Photo: Andrew McRobb)
Adding Cinderella to the Pyramid was the finishing touch. Here we see it being put in place by Wes Shaw, the now ex-manager of the Palm House. It was one of the last projects Wes took part in here at Kew.
Wes Shaw completing the Pumpkin Pyramid (Photo: Andrew McRobb)
As this was his last project before leaving the Gardens for pastures new, Wes commented: "This is a lovely piece of work with which to end my time working at Kew.” Goodbye Wes, and good luck!
- Max -
Visit the Pumpkin Pyramid
The Pumpkin Pyramid is in Kew's Waterlily House. It rises 4 metres up out of the central pond. 75 different types of pumpkin, including the fairytale-titled Cinderella, Munchkin and Peter Pan varieties, were used in the installation.
- Dates - Until 3 November
- Where - Waterlily House. The Waterlily House is north of the Palm House. Download the IncrEdibles Festival map (pdf)
- Price - FREE with tickets to the Gardens
If this has inspired you to get creative with pumpkins, why not download our delicious pumpkin recipes
Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.
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