Charlie Brown and Linus might have spent all night in a pumpkin patch looking for the Great Pumpkin, but that’s because they were looking in the wrong place. The actual great pumpkin — or, at least, one of them — is at Ocean House in Watch Hill.
The hotel, known for its luxury accommodations and proximity to famous neighbor Taylor Swift, might be largely considered a summer destination, but has fall and winter celebrations throughout the entire season. The hotel is hosting Halloween and harvest celebrations now through Thanksgiving. At the center of the decor: a 2,234-pound pumpkin in front of the hotel, surrounded by dozens upon dozens of cascading pumpkins up the stairs into its grand entrance.
But before Ocean House’s great pumpkin arrives, the harvest celebration begins with apples.
“We start with a local apple display that we set up on the front drive,” said Lauren DiStefano, director of events for Ocean House. “We feature five to six different local apple varieties, and we set it up so guests can actually still enjoy the apples.” They even set up an old cider press as part of the display.
The pumpkin arrived this week and will be painted with a spooky theme by Ocean House’s art director. At the Halloween celebration on Oct. 31, costumed characters will be giving out treats and providing spooky photo ops. Soon after, the hotel’s Gondola Village opens with a fall theme. There, guests can eat fondue and drink champagne outside in refurbished vintage ski gondolas.
This year’s pumpkin was grown by Alex Noel of Odd Acre Farm in Pomfret, Conn. He’s been growing pumpkins for 20 years, and said growing a competition pumpkin requires a totally different approach than regular pumpkins. “If you’re growing regular Halloween pumpkins,” Noel said, “you plant some seeds, you till the soil, you hope for rain, you keep the weeds down, and you go pick pumpkins. It’s a much more involved process to do the giant ones.”
A large pumpkin starts in a greenhouse in April, is then transferred to the pumpkin patch with its own miniature greenhouse around it in the field with heating coils and lamps. It also requires a constant feed of fertilizer throughout its life. At peak growing, the vines can grow as much as a foot a day. Once the pumpkin gets going, it can add something like 50 to 60 pounds a day, eventually reaching a 6-foot diameter and weighing over a ton.
“It’s a matter of keeping it properly fed, and keeping diseases, fungus, mildew, things like that down,” Noel said, “and eventually just keeping the fruit healthy late into the season.”
Growing Ocean House’s great pumpkin this year, he estimated, took about 1,000 hours of work for the season, and several thousand dollars in materials and supplies. But all that work pays off. Noel’s great pumpkin is the largest pumpkin grown in Connecticut this year, and is the second-largest ever grown in the state. It doesn’t, though, beat his personal best, which was 60 pounds heavier. That pumpkin holds the state record for largest ever grown in Connecticut. “I wasn’t able to beat my own state record this year,” Noel said, “but I came pretty close. It’s the largest in the state this year by several hundred pounds.”
Before it arrived at Ocean House, the pumpkin made the festival rounds. Noel took second place at the Topsfield Fair this year. The winning pumpkin set a new festival record at 2,479 pounds.
“It’s just something I love to do,” Noel said. “It’s fun to get to show the other growers, who of course are good friends at this point.” After the pumpkin is done with all its seasonal appearances, he’ll sell the seeds, sending them all around the world.
The great pumpkin will stay at Ocean House through Thanksgiving Day. As soon as dinner is over and the last leftovers have been cleared away, a Christmas miracle of sorts takes place inside the hotel. That night, guests go to sleep in a harvest-themed hotel. The next morning, they wake up to a winter wonderland. All of Ocean House’s extravagant Christmas decorations go up overnight.