Somehow fall escaped us. Already the pole-mounted snowflake garlands are up in parts of Brooklyn, and down jackets of various lengths and thicknesses have been pulled out of storage, or procured anew. The mornings keep getting darker. It’s cold.
Still, the stoops of many family homes bear a distinct sign of late October: pumpkins. They are animated with paint and Sharpies, hollowed out and carved to cast an eerie glow, or displayed unadorned, as they were picked, in all their knobby glory. It may feel like winter, but it’s definitely Decorative Gourd Season.
No time of year is better suited to foliage-forward excursions. People spend weekends “upstate,” hiking and biking and loading up their trunks with produce from farms and apple orchards. Their hauls far exceed their needs, but how can they help it? The tiny squashes are too cute.
Less heralded is the low-maintenance fall activity that can be found within the five boroughs: walking through the wilds of Central Park’s North Woods, taking a ghost tour or visiting a public garden on a breezy, sunny day.
The New York Botanical Garden, for instance, just held its annual Giant Pumpkin Weekend, which included carving demonstrations, the opening of a Spooky Pumpkin Garden and, crucially, a host of events revolving around a special guest: the largest pumpkin grown in 2018.
On Sunday afternoon, Steve Geddes outfitted himself in a hazmat-like suit and squeezed inside of the 2,528-pound gourd that was but a twinkle in his eye, or a seed in a germination box, when he planted it on his farm in Boscawen, N.H., back in April.
“The plants themselves, once they get established and start rooting, will start growing a foot in every direction every day,” said Mr. Geddes, after extracting a bagful of very large seeds from his prize plant and exiting the pumpkin.
He stepped out of his suit to reveal a Halloween-ish orange-and-black suede varsity jacket embroidered with the seal of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, a regulatory body that sets standards for competition and product quality. While the childlike Spooky Pumpkin Garden played on the silly side of gourds — cartoonish jack-o’-lanterns mounted atop stick figures flanked the trail — the prizewinning fruit made it clear that big pumpkins are serious business.
Mr. Geddes’s pumpkin, on view through Oct. 31, is the second-largest competition pumpkin of all time, after one from Belgium set the record in 2016. “That was grown in a greenhouse,” Mr. Geddes noted, “so there’s some debate about how fair it is to compare. But to get pumpkins this size, whether you’re in a greenhouse or outside, it’s a lot of work.”
The magic of greenhouses is also on display at the Botanical Garden in the Haupt Conservatory, where an exhibition of tropical plants transports visitors to Hawaii, with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe as the spiritual guide.
In 1938, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (known today as Dole) commissioned O’Keeffe to complete two canvases that would be used for advertising. She traveled to Oahu and spent nine weeks mining the islands for pineapples, lobster claws and birds of paradise she could paint up close. Given the wealth of inspiration, her artistic output far exceeded her patron’s ask.
Works from O’Keeffe’s Hawaii period are on display in the Mertz Library Art Gallery through Oct. 28, along with the floral exhibit they inspired. To walk through the humid corridors of the conservatory in 45-degree weather while the wind whistles beyond the greenhouse glass — to examine the iridescent purple elephant ears and palm leaves, the warm-weather bougainvillea and hibiscus, the colors to which a northeastern winter would never be hospitable — is to feel at once the present season and the pleasure of escape.
Because fall is about getting out there, but it’s also about being cozy.
New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, N.Y.
Hours and admission: Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adults, $15; students and seniors, $7; children 2 to 12, $4.
Getting there: The most direct method of public transportation is the Metro-North Harlem local line from Grand Central Terminal to the Botanical Garden Station. If you’d prefer to travel by subway, you can take the 2 to Allerton Avenue, or the 4, B or D to Bedford Park Boulevard. You’ll need to walk a bit or take a bus to get to any of the entrances from those stops.