I tromped through the pumpkin patch: Rise of the Jack o Lanterns at Descanso Gardens

rise of the jack o lanterns

It’s no surprise that I’m an ardent lover of Halloween and all its trappings, so it should also come as no surprise that I follow a bunch of people equally as nutty about the holiday on Instagram. On my most recent trip to San Diego, I woke up one morning, checked Instagram, and saw that someone had posted a picture of amazing pumpkins and had tagged it with “descanso gardens“. I decided to find out where that was, and as luck would have it, not only was it just outside of Los Angeles, but they also had a few tickets left for that evening! SCORE. As we made the drive to Los Angeles, I wondered how it was that they had carved pumpkins on display for the entire month of October, because mine have always rotted after a few days. Were they fake? Did they carve a new batch every week? When we arrived, thankfully someone had already asked that question of a carver at work near the entrance. He told us that bacteria does begin to attack pumpkins as soon as the skin is penetrated, but as long as as he squirts his carved area (inside and out) with a bleach solution and covers it every night with a damp cloth soaked in the same solution, he can keep pumpkins looking fresh and display-ready for up to four months.  I don’t know that I’ll want to keep mine on my porch for four months, but it will be nice to have some techniques to make sure they last from the pumpkin carving party until Halloween proper without looking scarier than I intended.  

master carver

I already knew from the photo I saw on Instagram that there were some amazing pumpkins on view, but photos can’t even begin to compare to reality. The technical detailing is un-fricking-believable. I began to annoy myself with all of the times I breathlessly whispered “Oh my god, this is incredible. This is so incredible. These are so amazing.” I’m going to share a billion photos with you because I can’t bear to cull them, but in no way do my photos do them justice, especially because I was hand-shooting and I tend to be a little shaky and nowhere is that more evident than in low-light photos.

pumpkins and fountain

giant pumpkin flowers invaders from outer space

solar system pumpkins

mario and master chief pumpkins

grand theft auto and donkey kong pumpkins

This is clearly not Descanso Gardens’ first rodeo, and it’s especially evident in that they’ve used posts and stacks of less-intricate pumpkins to prop up the more elaborate ones so that they’re easily visible without having to be directly in front of them. It also makes it easier for people to take pictures in front of their favorites without having to get down on the ground. They also have suggested hashtags for each section of pumpkins for twitter and instagram, so they are being clever all around. After all, I never would have heard of them without seeing someone else’s post! strand of pumpkin lights

Along the walls, they had what looked like strands of those pumpkin-shaped lights, but each one was actually a real, hand-carved pumpkin. These strands converged and ran up an enormous tree and down its branches. The overall effect was magical. It was like stepping into a Halloween movie. I know I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but it was both beautiful and moving, a wholly-unexpected favorite.

magic tree

the fly pumpkin

frankenstein pumpkin

night of the living dead pumpkin

walking dead

bela lugosi

rocket raccoon guardians of the galaxy pumpkin hocus pocus

addams familyNot sure what the one on the right is. Help? My best guess is Coraline but that doesn’t seem right.

great pumpkin

walt disney neil armstrong

bryan cranston

marilyn monroe pumpkin

kermitShut. Up. How did they get such a smooth texture? I’m guessing sorcery.

michael jackson

pumpkin smileI found one that was more at my skill level.

pumpkin ghostsAhhhh! Ghost pumpkins! I love them so much.

pumpkin graveyard

t rex


raptor attack

kardashians…Well, I guess they can’t all be winners.

spooky tree

sugar skull

sugar skulls

holding breath


shrunken head



wizard of oz

chinese zodiac

robin williams and phillip seymour hoffman pumpkins

harold ramis memorial pumpkin

Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased about making the trip to see these incredible carvings in person, and if you have the opportunity, you definitely shouldn’t pass it up. My photos truly do the experience no justice.