Gardening: Cuttings: Appealing melons

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I CAN never resist an offer to look inside a well-run melon house. There is something instantly appealing about the whitewash and bare soil, the damp, earthy smell, lush vegetation and the curve of a melon leaning into its net.

Last autumn I saw members of the melon family used outside in a big way. Levens Hall in Cumbria, had lined some formal parallel borders with pumpkins and squashes of all kinds. A well-fed pumpkin is one of the fastest forms of temporary ground cover you can find, and would give great borders of foliage. I saw them in October, and the flesh was, so to speak, entirely bare. Frosts had flattened the leaves, exposing clutches of orange, white and yellow fruits, in sizes from grapefruit to rugby balls and larger, sitting at regular intervals. Rubens would have loved it.

It is an idea worth experimenting with. There is no reason why such fruits must be grown for eating alone, when they make such luscious ornaments. Take them up a trellis and let it all hang out. Make a melon arbour or a cucumber colonnade.

Most seed houses offer squashes and outdoor melons, but Thompson and Morgan goes to town with them. There is an interesting mixture of colours, shapes and sizes to be picked from its 1994 catalogue. But do not expect to grow show-stopper pumpkins unless you give them a pampered, health-farm existence and restrict the fruits per plant to one or two only. Even then, the British climate is not hot enough for long enough to grow the 800-pound pumpkins that the Americans can.