Once upon a time, in the Carse of Gowrie, Perthshire, legend has it that a ploughman was shot dead by a gamekeeper for the crime of scrumping apples. When the body was returned to the ploughman’s bereaved wife, she discovered some of the stolen fruits in the pockets of his coat. Rather than eat these illicit apples, she threw them on the compost heap. From the rotting fruits a lone seed germinated. It grew into a robust tree and, in time, produced fruits of its own. These fruits had sanguine skin, and when cut open the flesh was found to be stained blood-red…
This darkly delicious tale is said to be the origin of a variety of apple known as the ‘Bloody Ploughman’. Since I’m an aficionado of horror stories as well as horticulture, I’m badly tempted to add one of these eldritch trees to my garden! A garden full of creepy crops appeals to my sinister side, especially this year when, for many of us, celebrating Halloween must be done at home. Alone. In the dark.
So, gardening ghouls and boys, take my hand – hold on tight, now – and let’s delve into the shadowy recesses of the plant world to discover the creepiest, kookiest, spookiest crops you can grow.
Chilies with Bite
I’ve always thought that there was something fang-like about the pointed fruits of many chilies, and chili breeders obviously agree. Arm yourself with a wooden stake while hunting through the chili section of your seed catalogs because you might just happen upon one called ‘Vampire’, whose fruits start out black and ripen to blood red. The leaves are tinted a demonic black too. On the Scoville Scale (by which chili heat is measured), ‘Vampire’ rates at 14,000 SHUs, but if that doesn’t have enough bite for you why not try out the black-leaved, purple-flowered ‘Count Dracula’. Like ‘Vampire’, its fruits start out black as death and ripen to gruesome scarlet. Or give the similar, and even more creepily-monikered, ‘Nosferatu’ a go. Both varieties top out at around 25,000 SHUs. Don’t forget to fertilise your chilling chilies with organic bat guano, and plant plenty of garlic around them to keep your vampires at bay!
But the scariest chili of all has to be the ghost pepper, which reaches over one million SHUs.
Creepy Carrots and Kooky Kale
From a frightening fruit to a hair-raising root – check out the creepy carrots in the photo below! Dark-hued carrots have been around for centuries, and actually pre-date the more familiar orange. One of the darkest carrot varieties available is ‘Black Nebula’, which has coal-black skin, purplish flesh and a white-splattered core. It doesn’t lose its color after cooking, so would be great devoured as part of a horrifying Halloween meal.
Cavolo nero, or black kale, is a great addition to the gruesome vegetable garden with its weird, warty leaves. Even better, there is a variety of cavolo nero known as ‘Black Magic’ – an essential ingredient in any witch’s cauldron-garden.
Terrifying Tomatoes and Three Weird Sisters
Blood-red tomatoes may be terrifying enough for the faint-hearted gardener – who remembers Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? – but for the dauntless, why not try some of the many ghoulishly black or purple varieties. ‘Black From Tula’ is a large tomato with dark flesh as well as skin; ‘Black Cherry’ is purplish-black and prolific; ‘True Black Brandywine’ is a devilish take on an old classic; and ‘Black Beauty’ is probably the world’s darkest tomato.
Pumpkins are a staple of the scary season, but be careful not to let them turn into vampire pumpkins, which it is said may happen if they’re exposed to a full moon or kept too long once ripe. Give the well-known three sisters companion planting technique a sinister spin using hideous warty pumpkins (vampiric or otherwise), glossy black corn, and purple beans. If you see any children playing amongst it all though, run for your life!
Gorging on raspberries and blackberries can leave your fingers and mouth stained a gory red, so they definitely earn a place in your Gothic garden. Currants and gooseberries are deadly – but only to white pine trees. Blackberries are delicious, but don’t pick them too late or the devil will have spat on them. You could also include Actaea pachypoda, a shrub with unsettling white berries that give the plant its common name of ‘doll’s eyes’. If you’ve ever seen the original Child’s Play, you’ll understand why this needs to be included in any nightmarish garden! Don’t taste this terror, though – it’s toxic and can even cause blisters when touched.
There are plenty more frightening plants to try which are not edible but which are strangely enchanting. Perhaps you’ll find them for sale in the gardening section at your local Little Shop of Horrors – plants like wolfsbane, love-lies-bleeding, blood grass, devil’s claw, deadly nightshade, and Dracula orchids – but grow them at your peril! For me, I’m still unsure: dare I grow the ‘Bloody Ploughman’? I’ll think about that more later on tonight, after I switch off the light and lie awake listening to the wind in the apple trees, wondering if that small sound was the creak of the garden gate, or the rustle of feet tiptoeing across the lawn, or the rattle of skeletal branches as a ghostly ploughman reaches up to thieve one final apple…
Good night, gardeners. Don’t have nightmares.