Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever

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Overview

In the tradition of Word Freak and Confederates in the Attic, a charming, witty account of a season in mad pursuit of the world's largest pumpkin.

Every year, the race to grow the biggest pumpkin in the world draws a rowdy crowd of obsessive gardeners to county fairs and weigh-offs across the country. The competition is furious; there's sabotage and treachery and the heartbreak of root rot, and many a weigh-off ends in tears. This year more than just the grand prize is at stake....

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Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever

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Overview

In the tradition of Word Freak and Confederates in the Attic, a charming, witty account of a season in mad pursuit of the world's largest pumpkin.

Every year, the race to grow the biggest pumpkin in the world draws a rowdy crowd of obsessive gardeners to county fairs and weigh-offs across the country. The competition is furious; there's sabotage and treachery and the heartbreak of root rot, and many a weigh-off ends in tears. This year more than just the grand prize is at stake. The Holy Grail is within reach: the world's first fifteen-hundred pound pumpkin. And Ron and Dick Wallace will stop at nothing to get it.

Backyard Giants follows a tumultuous season in the life of a close-knit tribe of competitors as they chase down the ultimate pumpkin prize. In the grueling and gut-wrenching quest for truly colossal fruit, vacations are postponed, marriages are strained, and savings accounts are emptied. Backyards are converted into leafy laboratories of biogenetics and toxic chemicals—to say nothing of pumpkin sex. Riding shotgun with Ron and his father Dick, Wall Street Journal editor Susan Warren brings to life a winning and unforgettable crew of pumpkin lunatics: the newbie who shocked everyone by growing the big one last year; the pro-bono slime scientist; the groundhog assassin; and the safety trainer who risked electrocuting himself to save his patch. Funny, sharp, and engaging, Backyard Giants is a romp through a charming corner of American life, as quirky and enchanting as the big pumpkins themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The pursuit of the Great Pumpkin among Rhode Island gardeners becomes the passion of Texas-based Wall Street Journalbureau chief Warren in this gently ironic, thoroughly engaging work. Growing the world's heaviest pumpkin (the record tops around 1,500 pounds) has become an international sport, requiring full-time planning and cultivation, and amply rewarded in prizes at fairs and in TV appearances. Warren focuses on a group of winners among the Rhode Island club of growers, led by father and son duo Dick and Ron Wallace, who live south of Providence. She follows their fastidious planning over the 2006 growing season, from early tilling of a new patch of land (they burned out the old patch by pouring in too many supplements and fertilizers) to careful selection of seeds from previous monster prizewinners via online auctions, then germinating seedlings in an incubation chamber; this is followed by a strict planting, culling, watering and fertilizing schedule. While wives feel neglected, the men obsessively care for their pumpkin patches, coaxing the behemoths to amass 30 pounds a day at peak growth, and fending off destroyers such as deer, foaming stump slime and cracks in the shell. Each of these growers shares tales of heartbreak, but Warren peaks the anticipation with the big fall weigh-ins, lending a humorous, poignant touch to this hearty gardener's tale. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Why would anyone want to read a book about growing giant pumpkins and learn that breaking the 1500-pound barrier just might entitle the record breaker to wear the "orange jacket"? Perhaps because, in the objective hands of Warren (deputy bureau chief, Wall Street Journal, Dallas), the story is full of triumph, suspense, and the humor of disappointment. Although Warren probes the fortunes of growers all over the country, especially in New England, she centers her story on the father-and-son growing team of Dick and Ron Johnson in Rhode Island and their very special relationship. One of the most surprising and touching of the book's themes is how willing the Johnsons and other growers are to share materials and expertise, albeit a certain amount of rivalry does exist, much of it played out upon BigPumpkin.com, the favorite web site of growers of giant pumpkins. Along the way, Warren, an avid gardener and debut author, accomplishes what so few writers about science do-she makes clear and interesting the science behind the story. The popularity of gardening and the love of Americans for a winner make this book for all seasons an essential purchase for public libraries and highly recommended for academic and special libraries.
—M.C. Duhig

Kirkus Reviews
How far would you go for the World's Biggest Pumpkin?Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief Susan Warren spends a season following the travails of a distinctly American subculture: growers of giant pumpkins. The cultivation of a half-ton fruit requires pragmatic ingenuity, a can-do optimism in the face of terrible odds and an enthusiasm for grotesque gigantism. Dick and Ron Wallace, the father and son growing team at the center of Wallace's narrative, exemplify the type: male (though women do compete), competitive and frighteningly obsessive about the hobby. Growing these freakish giants requires unrelenting, backbreaking physical labor and a firm grasp of botanical science; as fragile as hothouse orchids, giant pumpkins are vulnerable to all manner of disease, pests, balky weather and the genetic strain of achieving such Brobdingnagian proportions. The Wallaces are eminent in the growers' community, admired for their formidable gardening acumen and generosity to their fellow hobbyists, but they have been plagued by bad luck, time and again raising world-class pumpkins only to have them rupture or rot at critical moments. Ron Wallace views the season covered here as his last chance to go all-out, devoting himself completely to the massive pumpkin patch that dominates his property in a desperate bid to win a world record-his intensity in this endeavor is both admirable and a little frightening. This is all strangely engrossing; while the subject of pumpkin growing might not have obvious general reader appeal, Warren masterfully limns the subculture (complete with rabid Internet message boards) and the personalities of the fanatical growers (who plunge thousands of dollars into the hobbyand often risk personal relationships due to the time-intensive nature of the pursuit), and the degree of peril is so high it is impossible not to get swept up in the suspenseful course of the season. It has been suggested that, oftentimes, the smaller the stakes (and bragging rights to growing the world's biggest pumpkin seem awfully small stakes indeed), the bigger the drama. That's certainly the case here. Quirky and surprisingly affecting good fun-Ira Glass must be jealous. Agent: Joe Veltre/Artists Literary Group
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596912786
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 9/4/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 9.78 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Warren is the deputy bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal in Dallas, Texas. A native Texan, she is an avid gardener. Her biggest pumpkin was 240 pounds. This is her first book.

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    Valeria , Vincent , Efrain , and Liliana Henderson's Biography

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