Pirton pumpkin show winner reveals her secret to growing 35 stone pumpkin

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins - Credit: Archant

When Heather Dawkins started growing pumpkins she never could have dreamed that just two years later she would have been crowned Queen Pumpkin not once, but twice.

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins - Credit: Archant

But when the village’s growers of all things gargantuan gathered at Pirton Village Hall for the annual show, she found herself taking home the coveted winner’s silver cup for the second time – not to mention a handy green wheelbarrow which could prove useful for transporting her giant gourds.

The amateur gardener from Shillington is the first woman to have ever won the competition, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

The 69-year-old said she was amazed to have beaten the competition after growing a 35 stone whopper.

She said: “It was amazing really. I was just stunned, I didn’t think I would win this year, but there you go.”

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And Heather has now shared her secret to growing ginormous gourds.

She said: “I think it must be because they are planted in the compost heap, that is the only thing I can think of.

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“My husband gets horse manure and some pig manure and puts it on the heap, so maybe that’s the trick.”

Two years ago Heather, who lives with hubby Chris in Hanscombe End Road, was given some pumpkin seeds by friend Fred West – a legend in Pirton pumpkin circles and 24 time King Pumpkin winner.

She recalled: “Just have fun with it, he said, and we planted them in the back garden – and then they just grew and grew.

“I never expected them to get so big. It was the first thing I have ever grown.”

Last year’s winner tipped the scales at 400 pounds and this year’s champion – grown using one of its seeds – came in at 487 pounds.

It had to be taken to the village hall by digger and then the muscle power of four burly blokes was needed to heave it into position.

The pumpkin stood out from the other entrants not just because of its size, but because it was the only green one amongst a sea of golden gourds.

Heather thinks the excess of summer sun in September contributed to the size of her pumpkins but cannot explain the unusual colour.

She had difficulty choosing which one to enter into the show after two grew to the same size.

After they were weighed one was found to be four pounds lighter and can still be found in the pumpkin patch next to her house.

“I don’t know what I am going to do with it,” she said after the show.

“I won’t be eating it, I don’t think pumpkins have much going for them – but I will be taking some seeds from it.”

The winner is now on display in the Hitchin branch of the supermarket Waitrose, where the Pirton winner is an annual fixture once the show has concluded.

And apparently there is no bad blood between Heather and Fred whose pumpkin growing crown she has stolen.

“We have been friends for years, he is really happy for me,” she said. “It is just a bit of fun really.”

Fred, 80, has been growing pumpkins for 40 years, and he has his suspicions that Heather’s prize winner may not be a pumpkin at all.

“Yeah, I think it might have crossed with a marrow in my garden,” he joked. “It is a funny green colour. No, I’m joking, it is definitely a pumpkin.”

Fred, who appropriately lives in Green Fields, Shillington, has been a Royal Horticultural Society judge for 20 years and started growing vegetables himself as a hobby.

“My wife says she is a gardening widow as I am down the garden so much,” he said.

Although he lost out to Heather in the pumpkin competition at this year’s village show he still took home prizes for the heaviest potato, heaviest apple, longest green bean and longest carrot so he hasn’t lost his touch for outsized specimens.

He said: “I am happy for Heather, it is really nice to see new people taking an interest and it is great to see children getting involved.

“I have been doing it for 40 years, but I am an old man now and it is a pleasure to see someone else win it.”

Both Heather and Fred have said they will be having another crack at the competition next year.

But the ever increasing size of the pumpkins has proved a bit of a problem for the competitions organisers.

Vanessa Cole, one of the committee members of Pirton Pumpkin Club, said: “We will have to get new scales next year because the ones we use can’t take the pumpkins anymore. They are just too big.”

The 52-year-old said they had been amazed when Heather turned up last year with her debut pumpkin and took the title.

“We hoped she would enter again,” said Vanessa, who lives in Pirton.

“I don’t know what it is about Pirton, but I have not seen bigger pumpkins anywhere else.”

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