Lofty effigy or cartoonish creep, scarecrows have had a place in human culture for centuries. They have also held a place in literature. Playwrights and poets have used the scarecrow not unlike a mummified corpse or zombie, though they are far less popular as villains. I’ve always enjoyed them when I’ve seen them in reading and in the wild. Once I wrote about one in my story “Staked,” read on the 2018 episode of The Wicked Library titled Tricks and Treats, I noticed there is a definite lack of scarecrows each autumn.
While some excellent towns have scarecrow festivals, we can settle for a scarecrow centrepiece on the front porch. Even if only used for the proper utilitarian purpose year ’round in the garden, you can decorate with them as opposed to having them as a stand-alone piece. This not only adds to their charm but can create a creepy aesthetic.
My grandmother kept a dressed up and classic scarecrow in the garden from time to time. Some years the clothes would be too ragged, mouldy or infested, and thrown out so it sometimes took a year or two to construct a new one. I missed seeing the strange sentry out there in the field when it was gone, even if an aluminum pie tin on a stick sufficed.
In the same year that I reviewed the film SCARECROWS (1988), I visited an autumn attraction called Pumpkinferno. Now while that has a draw of its own, the sentries on the garden paths of pumpkins that make up the attraction are dotted by evil scarecrows used as signposts. Not your grandmother’s bird chasers at all!
Not that I have the room for one of these glorious creations—not unlike the life-size automatons that grace front yards and Halloween stores this time of year—but if I did, it would be a permanent fixture. Not just plunked down in the yard either, but incorporated into the environment so they would want to stay!
Vines can decorate a year-round scarecrow. Crawling up and around, a hardy and white-blooming specimen could be morning glory or mandevilla. Mandevilla is new to me and seeing it bloom straight from May to now puts it high on my list for scarecrow adornment. Both are annual so less invasive. If you have a crop of vile bindweed, the aptly-named dog-strangling vine, kudzu, or any evil creeper, you may as well work with it and let it invade a classic scarecrow. Virginia creeper and others turn red in the fall so it would go from vibrant showpiece to a moody decoration just in time.
Sunflowers look all at once more menacing when planted around a scarecrow. Or, should there already be a copse of sunflowers at the end of the lane, just add a scarecrow for good measure. They can persist into the fall being sunnier than the actual sky, so the “garden goblin” should knock them down a few pegs. For large showy discs, the Titan variety is the biggest and many have the word “massive” in the title making one easy to pick. Giraffe and King Kong describe some very tall-growing sunflowers that may tower over you and your straw-person. Black Magic and Ruby Sunset will give a dark cast to your scarecrow garden, while Italian White and Pale Purple can brighten up the darkest night.
For a further change of mood and a heightened creep-factor, adding a hood and cape made from a sheet would give your scarecrow a sinister look. On the other hand, maybe a white sheet would look wonderfully ghastly, especially once those sunflowers have withered and browned.
With no space, or no cornfield for a full-fledged scarecrow, the colours, textures, and themes many associate with a good old down-home straw man combine well with the palette of the season. The trademark burlap sack head as a throw cushion is one thing, but one could be planted in among those potted chrysanthemums. With their hues of gold and umber, that pastel brown will fit right in. Marigolds are another option with pumpkin and straw colours of their own. In fact, there is a variety called the mari-mum, which flowers late—perfect for the haunting season. Strawflower comes in a rainbow of fall tones, too, and can be cut and dried for use indoors all year. Some daisies and gerbera have a great orange cast, and mingle well with low-growing sunflower.
If a decapitated head lacks colour, a stuffed plaid shirt works well. Leaving a little hay or dried corn husk peeking out of the neck and cuffs does the trick to emphasize the headlessness and lack of hands. It is also a great use for those ornamental grasses or leftover corn husks from the farmers market. Having this half-scarecrow may add that touch of dread to the flowerbed, especially if grasses and the fall colours of foliage decay have already taken over.
It is certainly a trend to have planted a few stalks of corn in the middle of a raised bed or at the edge of a garden. The addition of a scarecrow would certainly dress that up. Most garden centres and even supermarkets sell dried corn stalks this time of year, so if you are as short on space as I am that may be just the touch needed by the front door. Perhaps tying this up with a burlap ribbon would be close to the colours and textures I am personally missing around the house.
It may not be my grandmother’s scarecrow or one of the giant harbingers from the paths of Pumpkinferno, but maybe I will have to settle for a small craft display. There are many of those, and it is the perfect time of year for shopping. Now that I’ve put my finger on what fall decor is lacking—a face, legs, arms, and an uncanny human form—I’ll always be looking for it. Be it in the middle of a dense field at dusk or on my neighbour’s front lawn, a scarecrow is more a sign of harvest to me than candy corn and bats, witch hats, or black cats.