Stephen ‘Spoonful’ Parker casts his eye over ‘Cucurbita Maximus’, photographer and gardener William Arnold’s new squash-based photo-zine.
I’ve written before on CBTR about my fascination with pumpkins (or strictly speaking, squash, but I much prefer the more globular-sounding name). When I moved to Cornwall 15 years ago one of the first things I did was try and grow some vegetables. The pumpkins were a wild success. That first year 20 of them raged rampantly around the garden, then after their exertion sat stoically for months under a canopy of huge leaves forming a rock-hard skin that would see them, once harvested, right through the winter. Indeed, one of my pumpkins has lasted well over a year, almost becoming one of the family, with his own chair at the dining table.
Each year I try growing new types of pumpkin: curious blue Zeppelin-shaped ones (The Banana), dark green Burgess Vine, the Gold Nugget, and this year maybe the Appalachian North Georgia Candy Roaster. The names are often delightfully exotic, with syllables to be rolled around and discussed with fellow pumpkin heads.
My attempts at taking their portraits have usually been disappointing. At the risk of sounding slightly crackers, I never seem to catch their personalities.
But here in Cucurbita Maximus (Antler Press) accompanied by a Molly Goldstrom poem, William Arnold has photographed and captured 20 examples of the tribe. Squash cross-fertilise very easily, so strange, misshapen monsters are common – and a couple are featured here. They are often the most appealing; runts to love.
Unidentified Hubbard Squash hybrid
In this beautifully printed pamphlet, they are captured against a jet-black background, which lends the big beasts a weightlessness. They hang as if in space, strange twisted knobbly planet plants. The Queensland Blue sits like a space station, while the cover montage creates a well-ordered vegetable solar system – Oliver Postgate would have approved, I’m sure.
My favourite is the ‘Squat green marrow, feral seedling from a former pig field’ – just typing that description is immensely enjoyable. Here a vegetable Nautilus noses out of inky infinity. Maybe this one cruises the depths of the sea. I half expect it to recede, never to be seen again, with a hushed David Attenborough narration accompanying its exit.
If you’re wondering, as I’m sure you are, what happened to the year-long pumpkin that sat all year in my dining room – through harvest time, Halloween (my birthday, I was destined to be a pumpkin man) and Christmas lunch. Well, one day in late spring I picked him up from his chair to discover a wet and putrid undercarriage. It seemed apt – this last year has thrown two significant moments into my path that have given me pause to think about life, mortality and all that stuff. As I ran to drop him into the compost bin before he completely fell apart, I couldn’t help but think, with a wry smile, that this is how some of us will end up. Hopefully, this excludes you and I, who will finish our days with nice firm bottoms and healthy glowing skin before we ourselves end up on the great compost heap in the sky.
Cucurbita Maximus is out now and available from the Antler Press shop, priced £8.00.