The Halloween holiday that will stretch through the weekend to the actual holiday on Wednesday will bring out wonderful costumes and macabre props. It’s ironic that at the same time the rest of the world is ramping up the activities, many schools are scaling back on their Halloween celebrations for a variety of reasons. As a child at Central School, I remember the afternoon Halloween parties as a highlight of the year. I’m pretty sure that despite our teachers’ efforts, we as students didn’t accomplish much in the morning, either. We were too hyped up in anticipation of the afternoon’s festivities.
There was great excitement as we donned our costumes – usually some homemade creation that involved more creativity than money – and turned into somebody or something else and took it on parade up Vine Street and down Main Street. The town was smaller then. The police blocked off the streets and we walked, ambled, cavorted or slithered the four to five blocks from the school to Main Street and back to the school. Sometimes the kids from Harris Elementary (the only other local elementary school back then) held their parade down Main Street as well.
Mothers, younger siblings, grandparents, aunts and even a few fathers and uncles lined the sidewalks to applaud, ogle and sometimes giggle as the ghoulish procession made its way past. There was no question in our minds, we were wonderful.
My favorite costume was composed of a blue and white cotton dress with a long gathered skirt that originated as a neighbor lady’s castoff. My mother, who came up with great dress-up ideas, caught the vision, found a mask that looked like a little old lady with square glasses, made a ruffled, white colonial style hat and tied strings to an old pillow so I could tie it around my waist under the skirts to plump up my backside.
I heard people giggle and comment about the “old lady” costume as I passed in the parade. Behind my mask, I was smiling broadly and I walked with a bounce to make that pillow jiggle.
When it came to my own kids, I wasn’t as wonderful. I tended to put off getting into creating costumes until they insisted or the night before – whichever came first. We still had some pretty good costumes based often on the kids’ creativity and falling back on some old costumes that came with me into my marriage. We were never much for off-the-rack Halloween costumes.
Decorations were simple and echoed the themes of fall. There was the traditional jack-o’-lantern for the front porch and Halloween artwork in the windows. It was pretty scaled down compared to today’s decorations.
The props of Halloween are big business. According to the National Retail Federation, a record 170 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year and they have spent at least the past couple of months haunting fabric stores, costume shops and general variety stores as they get into the spirit of the ghostly holiday.
Every October, macabre graveyards featuring gargoyles, hobgoblins, ghosts, witches, vampires, goblins and more dot Tooele County landscapes. Fog machines, glow-in-the-dark cobwebs, orange lights and eerie noises complete the façades.
Natural garden decorations like orange mums and pansies, dried cornstalks, ornamental kale, bales of straw, dead flowers, broken branches, and grapevine wreaths demand to be a part of the show.
Why not spook up your garden with Halloween plants? It is possible to plant a Halloween garden. It has to have black in it for black magic. We used to depend on Jack Frost to provide dead and blackened plants, but now we are beholden to the horticulture industry for breeding a large number of increasingly popular black plants. Keep in mind that many plants advertised as black are actually a dark purple or burgundy color.
This year as an experiment, I planted some black tomatoes called Indigo Rose. The tomatoes are born black, stay black and ripen black. It was a little bewildering to determine when they were ripe but eventually I discovered that they soften and develop a reddish blush on one side when they ripen. The flesh inside the ripe ones is red and the unripe ones are green but in both cases, the skin is pretty much black. The flavor of the ripe ones isn’t my favorite, but they have been fun to grow.
There are some great ground covers with black or nearly black foliage like blackie, an annual sweet potato vine, and the perennial black scallop ajuga.
Black mondo grass grows 6-inches tall in partial shade. In the summer it produces nearly pink blossoms followed by black berries. Although it is a perennial in some climates, it would likely not survive our winters here.
Some violets and violas are so dark they are almost black. Look for Molly Sanderson violas.
Don’t overlook the black pearl pepper with its black leaves and shiny, black, round fruits. Voodoo and black wizard dahlias and chocolate cosmos also add black to a flower garden. In a shade garden try begonia rex black coffee.
Black isn’t the only descriptor for a spooky Halloween garden. Some plants earn their place on Halloween rosters just from their names. After all, witch hazel sounds like a wicked plant that Halloween was made for.
Think treats if you include candy corn vine or firecracker vine in your Halloween garden. Its tiny tubular flowers are red-orange with yellow tips. The tropical climber attracts hummingbirds in summer.
Names like toad lily, ghost fern, crow feather (also known as foam flower) and eyeball plant are also appropriate for Halloween.
The vegetable garden is a treasure trove of possibilities. Gourds go with Halloween like pancakes go with syrup. Yugoslavian finger fruit can be the creepy, crawly dismembered hand or some sort of a ghostly apparition depending on your imagination.
Lumina pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow, carve and even eat. The rind is an eerie white color covering flesh of bright orange. Carved into a jack o’ lantern, the eerie white rind creates a brilliant contrast with the bright orange flesh that shows through from the inside.
Eggplants grow ever whiter and ever darker. One is aptly named casper. They come in small, medium and large sizes from oval to egg shaped to round. That smooth, satiny skin looks like Halloween and they would be a good addition if they survive frost long enough.
Ornamental eggplants look like tiny orange pumpkins clustered on a stiff stick. They are also called pumpkin trees or pumpkins-on-a-stick and were just made for Halloween arrangements and Halloween gardens.
Last but not least is the all-time favorite: the standard pumpkin. From the tiny jack-be-littles to the potentially mammoth Atlantic giant, pumpkins are essential to Halloween. They are relatively easy to grow if you have the space, and some newer varieties are space savers.
Whatever you choose, prepare yourself for the onslaught of wonderful ghosts, goblins, pirates, princesses, and superheroes that are likely to show up at trunk-or-treat parties this weekend or knocking on your door next week.