Pumpkins topped with succulents make perfectly pretty autumn decor

Pumpkins decorated with succulents make great centerpieces during the Halloween holiday. The Windsor Garden will sell the pumpkins at their annual sale and donate the proceeds to fire victims. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)


Succulents have become the hippest plants on the planet. In the last few years, particularly since the most recent California drought, these resilien, and easy to cultivate and care for plants are popping up in more landscapes, spilling out of patio pots and thriving indoors in terrariums and living arrangements.

With their exotic-looking forms and textures, they seem to lend themselves to an endless number of inspired and whimsical uses and creations. It was inevitable that eventually there would be a marriage between echeverias, sedums and crassulas, and that favorite host for fall decor — the pumpkin.

Succulent-topped pumpkins make eye-catching accents in the home that can easily hold their own from Halloween to Thanksgiving. And with a little creativity and new clothes, so to speak, some could remain around until Christmas without looking out of place.

Members of the Windsor Garden Club captured the trend on the upswing, and have for the last few years been creating their own and holding an annual Succulent-Topped Pumpkin Sale as part of the Windsor Farmer’s Market Fall Jamboree.

They will have many to choose from in different sizes for this year’s sale, running 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday in the Windsor Town Green. They are also putting together spring bulb planter kits and house plants growing in water, as well as a little bit of this and a bit of that from members’ own gardens.

“We are pretty amazed at the continuing popularity of our succulent-topped pumpkin sale. Every year we have been selling over 100 pumpkins in three hours. They were beautiful, unique and incredibly clever,” said Cindy Fenton, president of the club. “They are the main focus of the sale but we have other interesting items as well.”

They will be selling kits with annuals and bulbs for a long-term show and houseplants like spider plants that are alive in water and glass. Club members will be on hand to show you how to do it your own if you are inspired.

In light of the calamitous wildfires that have laid waste to so much of Sonoma County and displaced thousands of people, club members seriously weighed whether to hold the sale or call it off like so many other local events. But since Windsor itself was spared in a way Santa Rosa and other communities were not, they decided to go ahead in a spirit of community healing. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to fire victim funds.

“We were wondering if people were looking for a little respite and relief right now,” said Letitia Caruso, a three-year member of the club and ad hoc member of the board. “Windsor is in pretty good shape right now and we have been very lucky in that regard.”

The 75-member club is all about community, reflecting changing tastes and trends in gardening. While many garden clubs in the past were social groups organized around a hobby, filled with housewives or retirees enthusiastically tending roses and other ornamentals, the demographics and mission of clubs have shifted to a focus on civic projects.

For Windsor, that has meant helping the Town of Windsor’s department of parks and recreation manage a 72-bed community garden on The Green.

The club is in the eighth year of a 10-year lease for the project, which has gained roots over time, enough to be considered, as one town official said, “holy ground now.”

“Many garden clubs are in decline. If a garden club is going to survive they’re going to have to make that shift to making themselves relevant in the community by creating this urban type of gardening. But I think our club is really unique in that we have a community garden. We’re integrated in the community. And we have every demographic of Windsor represented, from seniors to Spanish-speaking gardeners.”

For $60 a year, a person or family can lease a raised bed. There are even a few that are raised higher for people in wheelchairs.

“We provide the soil and a drip irrigation system. They just have to bring plants and take care of their bed. The Windsor Garden Club pays for anything that needs to be done to keep the garden going,” Fenton said. That includes access to a stocked tool shed. Subscriptions run from January to January. The Windsor Service Alliance, which runs the community food pantry, also has a few beds, which garden club members tend on their behalf. They’re getting ready to put in broccoli, chard, fava beans and other winter crops to feed the needy. When people who lease beds can’t harvest quickly enough, garden club members will glean food that otherwise would go to waste, and give it to the pantry.

Other club projects include a habitat demonstration garden at the civic center and an insectiary border for beneficial bugs around the community garden.

Club members have created an assembly line at Fenton’s house to make the succulent-topped pumpkins, which will sell from $10 to $60, depending on size.

But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, they are not hard to make if you have access to cuttings.

Caruso, who is helping with the plant sale, said you want to look for a pumpkin with a flat top, Remove the handle but don’t cut into the pumpkin or it will rot. Spritz the top of the pumpkin with a spray adhesive (water soluble glues won’t work), and attach a light bed of sphagnum moss about a ½-inch deep. Press it down and let it dry for a few hours to overnight. You want it completely dry or everything will fall off.

Gather cuttings from a variety of succulent plants, one to be a showy focal point, like hens and chicks, to be a “thriller” as they say, with spiller plants such as a number of sedums, cascading down the side. Then fill in on the top with “fillers” like Echeveria Setosa. Gather cuttings from your own plants or ask your friends to snip from their plants. They’re also inexpensive at home improvement stores. Attach cuttings with a glue gun.

“Look for varying textures, like some fuzzy leaves and some smooth. Oak leaves look nice and last long. You can also work in seed pods, acorns, pine cones or other things from the fall/winter landscape to work in.

The beauty of these arrangements is that you can change them out for the holiday at hand. With a few additions or switch-outs, your Halloween pumpkin can sit in the middle of your Thanksgiving table. If you start with a white pumpkin, it could be even be decorated for Christmas with berries, or for Hanukkah with shades of silver and blue.

Whether you buy one or make one, spritz the moss periodically with a little moisture to keep the cuttings alive. That way, when you’re done with the pumpkin, you can remove the cuttings and plant them for whole new plants. As a gift, it will keep on giving.

“They last for so long,” Caruso said. “I’ve had people come up to me six, eight or nine months later and say their succulents are still alive.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 707-521-5204.