How do you show a pumpkin like Maria? On a very large scale
When asked the secret behind growing freakishly large vegetables, capable of overshadowing rivals at the local village show, Maria Brenchley jokes: "I feed them cheese sandwiches."
Her prize-winning pumpkin weighed in at a whopping 546 pounds for the annual contest in Orford, near Woodbridge, securing her the trophy named after her nearest competitor.
In total, she scooped eight titles at this year’s show – including one for her 107-pound mega marrow.
“It’s partly down to luck and partly down to the weather,” said the 51-year-old. “So many people asked for my secret recipe that I started saying it was cheese sandwiches.”
Mrs Brenchley discovered her incredible knack for growing enormous vegetables two years ago, after jokingly suggesting to repeat winner Neil Macro that, with enough effort, anyone could wrest his trophy away.
Despite never having grown a pumpkin, she proved it was possible to win that year.
The title then returned to Mr Macro, whose 400-pound effort came second to Mrs Brenchley’s show-stopping effort for 2017.
“I’m hooked,” she admitted. “I tried really hard to win this year.
“The first plants were taken out by frost, so I was behind everyone else. Mine were football-sized while others were already giant – but then I uncovered them in August and thought ‘wow’.
The largest of vegetables grown on her allotment eventually get gobbled up by hungry hogs at The Crown Inn, Snape, where Mrs Brenchley’s works alongside her sister, Teresa Cook, who runs the pub with husband Garry and breeds pedigree pigs.
Some of the pumpkins are also placed in the pub for Halloween.
The world of competitive growing comes with friendly badgering from opponents, according to Mrs Brenchley, who was told in her debut year that she couldn’t possibly have grown such large vegetables without the help of her husband, Derick.
“I’m the one watering them twice a day,” she said. “It’s all me!
“My grandmother used to enter the show in a big way, as well as my mother, and we used to win cups as children.”
Mrs Brenchley grows vegetables and flowers all year round on the allotment she has kept for the last 20 years.
Her tips for growing super vegetables include lots of time – and plenty of space.