An interview with Matthew OliverRHS horticulturistRHS Garden Hyde Hall 

Matt currently holds the records for giant squash and giant pumpkin grown outdoors in the UK! 

1) A little pumpkin trivia

Why do you love pumpkins?  

Pumpkins are exciting because they are the largest fruits on the planet! There’s no other fruit that gets bigger than a pumpkin. So they are the king of the fruit and veg world. 

How many different kinds of pumpkins are there? 

There are thousands of pumpkin cultivars across the world. Each continent has their own. There’s potentially an endless amount because they cross-hybridise really easily. They're all bred from a set range of different species, of which there's four or five.   

2) Carving

What is your go-to pumpkin for Halloween carving? 

The best kind of pumpkin for Halloween carving is what's known as a field pumpkin. They're characterised by having a very hard, dark green hooked stem, which you can use as a handle. And they're the ones which are very easy to grow at home, but which we normally end up buying. 

3) Eating

And what pumpkin would you be eating? Is there difference?  

Ah yes. This is where we get into the difference between what is a pumpkin and what is a squash. In the world of horticulture, the only difference is the name. As the old phrase goes, a pumpkin is round and orange, a squash is good for eating. So basically a squash is anything that's not orange, but botanically they're exactly the same. 

On the whole, when we're looking for something good to eat, we're looking at squash varieties. The classic to grow in this country is the light steel, grey-blue coloured ones known as Crown Prince. They're regarded as the best for eating quality in the UK. Onion shaped pumpkins/squash are also great, there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Or there's the warty French variety called 'Galeux d'Eysines' which is perfect for pumpkin pie as the wartier they get, the sweeter they are. Kabocha squash are also delicious and manageable in the kitchen.  

4) Growing pumpkins

Why grow your own pumpkin?  

Pumpkins are really easy to grow. All you need is a sunny, warm position, a nice fertile soil and then a good water once a week. If you're living in the south of the country they seem to be really easy to grow. I find them exciting because they grow so quickly. There aren't many other fruits that grow as quick as these! Plus you can grow something completely different from what’s in the shops and have a really individual Halloween pumpkin. And then eat them! You'll get a better appreciation for the taste if you grow them yourself. #EatYourPumpkin 

What's the best pumpkin for first time growers?  

 I think the best ones for people to grow at home are the small fruited varieties, because the plants stay smaller, they don't take up so much space. You get a lot more fruit per plant, they're a lot easier to handle in the kitchen and generate less waste too. You literally cut the top off, scoop out the seeds and stuff them with breadcrumbs, cheese etc. Put the lid back on. Stick it in the oven and roast it. And then once he's cooked it's a perfect individual portion size.  
Varieties include: ‘Buffy Ball’, ‘Jack Be Little’ or the ‘Hooligan’ 

When should I plant my pumpkin and how long will it take to grow? 

We normally start sowing the seed about May time. And then harvest in September or October. So we're set in four to five months. It's a very quick growing crop. 

So how do I grow a pumpkin? 

Start in early to mid-May, ideally on a windowsill or in a green house if you have one. Sow the seed with the pointy end down because that's where the root comes from. They need warmth to germinate. So warm and moist are the best conditions. They'll germinate very quickly if they like it within three to five days. Then two or three weeks later plant the sprout out into the garden around late May to early June. Then all you've got to do is keep them well watered and in a nice sunny position. And that's pretty much all they need.  

Can I save seeds from my Halloween pumpkin or should I buy anew?  

It’s better to go and buy a pack of pumpkin seeds because they cross-pollinate really easily. They're really promiscuous plants. So if you save a seed from a pumpkin you've bought or grown, it won't necessarily turn out as you expect...  

Hungry for more?

Thinking of all those juicy pumpkins got your mouth watering? Dig into our treasure trove of pumpkin recipes. 

PUMPKIN RECIPES