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.
Susan 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.