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Pumpkins draw smiles at The Arboretum at Penn State

Lilian Hook, 4, chooses a pumpkin on Sunday during the pumpkin giveaway at The Arboretum at Penn State.
Lilian Hook, 4, chooses a pumpkin on Sunday during the pumpkin giveaway at The Arboretum at Penn State. psheehan@centredaily.com

Pumpkins don’t technically grow on trees, but that has never stopped The Arboretum at Penn State from giving them away for free.

Given the sizable number of men, women and children swarming the parking lot, free is still very much in vogue.

The event, the sixth of its kind, invited local residents to pick from 1,000 pumpkins — approximately four small truckloads — in anticipation of The Arboretum’s annual Pumpkin Festival to be held Friday and Saturday.

The jack-o’-lantern contest plays a big role in that celebration.

“It’s really people’s creativity that is at the center of the festival,” Shari Edelson, director of horticulture, said.

Sunday afternoon’s visitors were looking for the perfect canvas onto which they could project their hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties — or the more standard crooked smile.

It’s really people’s creativity that is at the center of the festival.

Shari Edelson, director of horticulture.

Over the years, people have strayed the traditional to create entire scenes carved into the side of one orange squash.

The kids at the giveaway seemed less concerned with the artistic possibilities and more interested in locating the biggest pumpkin in the field. Unless mom or dad broke a sweat carrying it to the car, it wasn’t worth it.

One spirited young chap threw his pumpkin to the ground repeatedly and watched how it bounced — apparently the new equivalent of thumping a melon in the supermarket.

Edelson believes that people are just excited that fall has arrived.

“If it was a potato festival, I don’t think the response would be quite the same,” Edelson said.

Still, excitement does not a pumpkin make. Preparations for next year’s giveaway will begin as early as February, when The Arboretum will order the many, many seeds required to meet consumer demand.

They won’t see the orange light at the end of the tunnel until about mid-September.

That suits Owen Novosel just fine. At 3 years old, he has all the time in the world to kill and doesn’t mind spending some of it searching for the perfect pumpkin.

It seems that pumpkins just make people happy.

Kim Steiner, director of The Arboretum at Penn State

His grandfather, Mike Desmond, had helped him assemble a couple of options from which to choose, and after a brief period of deliberation, Owen settled on a lean but tall model that came in the color orange and slightly less orange.

“It seems that pumpkins just make people happy,” Kim Steiner, director of The Arboretum, said.

The giveaway originally started as a way to bring The Arboretum into the community, but now it’s its own making.

“We probably gave away 200 pumpkins in the first hour,” Steiner said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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