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SPIRITED GARDENING

Simple tricks will turn your landscape into a Halloween treat.

It stands to reason that come fall, a gardener nicknamed Pumpkin, a woman with a copper bob and a 50th-birthday Cucurbita pepo ankle tat, lights up her yard like an English bonfire.

And with Halloween around the corner, of course she bedazzles all those crimson, yellow and flaming orange blooms and foliage with ghoulish wicked witches, giggly ghosts and jack-o'-lanterns galore.

Janice "Pumpkin" Vogt's holiday garden has become an annual treat. Cars slow to a roll past her old-fashioned picket fence, mums, heirloom gourds and butterfly vines. Pedestrians taking the air in the alley along her back yard pause to point out the surprises coyly tucked among the crotons and copper plants.

For most of the year, Pumpkin is pretty low-key. The school nurse at her alma mater, historic Hillsborough High in Tampa, she lives a short walk from work in a circa 1949 bungalow usually surrounded by a happy jumble of candy-colored blooms.

But when the leaves turn up North, mild-mannered Pumpkin gets a little Southern crazy.

"This year, I found a great life-sized skeleton at the Spirit Halloween store," she tells me. "I had to go next door to the Fresh Market for some pumpkin coffee beans, so I took him with me. I knew it would be fun!"

It was.

"One guy yelled, 'Hey, lady! You need to feed your boyfriend!'"

Pumpkin's autumn fetish was born, like her, in Pennsylvania. She grew up in Tampa and finally revisited her birthplace when she was 19. It was November, and the crisp colors and joie de la saison of a Northern country autumn hit her like a ton of candied apples.

"Every house had a pumpkin and a wreath," she says. "I thought, 'That's my roots. That's who I'd have been if I'd been raised in Pennsylvania.'

"I've been collecting pumpkins ever since."

How does Pumpkin create her blow-me-away faux Yankee landscape - on a budget? It's pretty easy.

"I stalk the magazines and Pinterest."

Steal like a criminal! Pumpkin finds color combinations, yard art and fun vignettes by scouring other gardeners' successes. That's how she discovered her newest go-to fall plant, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). Its deep purple foliage, streaked with silver and green, provides a stunning contrast to fall's yellows, browns and oranges.

Persian shield is a low-growing shrub, and it's easy to find in the big-box stores and nurseries. It likes partial shade and thrives in a container or a bed.

Light up your beds with fiery fall colors.

Crotons, with their brilliant splashes of yellow, ruby red and emerald green, are among Pumpkin's favorite Halloween plants. She particularly likes Zanzibar's narrow, whiplike leaves.

Add yellow sparks with Florida-friendly lantana, yellow milkweed and shrimp plant. Then turn up the heat with the hot reds of chenille, Hot Lava coneflower and copper plant.

Coleus Alabama's mottled bronze, maroon and chartreuse foliage brightens shady areas, and don't you dare forget the mums!

Think outside the orange.

"Heirloom pumpkins are the new, trendy thing, and they're a lot of fun," Pumpkin says.

They're turquoise, white and brown with little warts, big warts or bulbous warts. It takes some work to find them, which makes them that much more desirable.

Pumpkin gets hers at the Fresh Market. You can also try growing your own for next year. Start your seeds in February. (Find tips from Joe Parr, Busch Gardens' director of horticulture, at tbtim.es/8g0.)

Stick to a theme and shop cheap!

Pumpkin loves terra cotta. She has terra cotta jack-o'-lanterns, terra cotta rabbits, terra cotta containers. Find what makes you happy and make it a theme, she says.

"When it's repeated everywhere, it makes an impact."

She finds unusual, bargain-priced pieces at Home Goods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls, yard sales, antique stores and Webster's flea market (websterwestsidefleamarket.com).

"When Halloween's over," Pumpkin says, "just pack up the witches and the skeletons, and pull out the pilgrims. You're all set for Thanksgiving."

* * *

Have your pumpkin and eat it, too

Florida's native Seminole pumpkins are easy to grow and sweet to eat. Tampa gardener Tanja Vidovic is offering seedlings (she has two) or seeds to the first five people who email me with a request. Recipients must be able to pick them up. You'll need sun and room for vigorous vines. These heirlooms are best planted in spring or early fall. (Trade cuttings and other garden supplies on Tanja's Facebook page, Tampa gardening swap.)

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