How to put on a show in your garden for Halloween

It can be quite a glum time of year in the garden– but it’s easy enough to turn it glam with a little Halloween hocus-pocus, says Emma Townshend.

Tiny witches are one of my favourite things in the whole world. You get that ring on the doorbell, you can see through the glass that your visitors are head-height with the letterbox, and you open up to find them giggling. Because their false noses have gone all wonky.

Halloween can be a glorious fancy-dress moment for the garden, too; at my house, we have fake crime-scene tape, Mexican papier-mâché gargoyles and lanterns to tempt in Haribo seekers of all ages. And that's even before we get started on the pumpkin.

This can be a glum point of the year, as we reach the tipping point of the first frost. I was woken this morning at 5am by the wind blowing – a habitual stress for gardeners. Bits of carefully tied-up climber come down, fences get wobbly, neighbours get testy. But one way to keep in good books is to keep things relatively tidy. Though having only a few sunny hours in which to work, I can fill many council green waste bags with dead stuff.

A nicer alternative is jute leaf sacks – less objectionably plastic than a compost bin, the bags rot down at the same time as the leaves inside. If you have a spot where you could dump a tastefully Keats-esque sack of autumn colour for the year-long decomposition process, have a look on, where they are £1.60 each.

There are scores of berries and hips to cheer us, too. We've had hundreds of tiny apples, glorious touches of colour from rowan, pyracantha and quince, and the most spiders there have ever been at one time on the planet.

An autumn garden is cheered by these additions (although there's been the occasional person weeping about the spiders). Planting a rowan tree might be a step too far just for berries – and in most towns you'll benefit from them as street trees anyway. But Physalis, the Chinese Lantern, comes in many different flavours these days, so you can go for the plain orange lanterns or something more exotic and zingy. The traditional variety is £7.99 from

To find roses with lovely hips, check with the breeder – David Austin recommends R.Rugosa for large, sunset-orange fruit in autumn. This year, our rose display has been so good that I've dug out the wire support for the Christmas wreath and woven an autumn one with pine cones, holly berries and scarlet hips, to hang on the front door along with the skeletons.

Fire is, of course, the final element of the season. It may not be the most ecological way to get rid of the old growth, but it's by far the most symbolic. Samhain was the ancient festival marking the halfway point between the equinox and the winter solstice, and for gardeners and non-gardeners alike, that's worth celebrating. Try a firelog, £13.99 from – a single piece of a dead tree from huge Estonian forests which stands on its end, and will burn with a huge flame for two hours. Enough spooky time for the littlest of witches.

Seasonal joys

Pumpkin farms are increasingly welcoming customers to choose  their own, but Slindon, Hampshire, goes one better: it has its 44th annual pumpkin festival from this weekend until Bonfire Night, with many vintage varieties in shades from orange to violent green.

Take an autumn colour walk: spectacular leaves and seed pods make for a treat at most arboretums. Or make it a bit spooky with the National Trust at Chirk Castle, Wales, spotting ghosts and ghouls among the trees (or indoors if it’s raining). For this and other children’s half-term events, see

It’s mushroom season but you don’t have to walk on the wild side: Tyntesfield in Somerset has fungi  forays guided by an expert on 3 and 17 November. £10,

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