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Get Growing: Garden ideas abound at Mount Holyoke bulb show

Mount Holyoke bulb show.

Mount Holyoke bulb show. Purchase photo reprints »

Cheery pansies and pussy willows in window boxes outside Talcott Conservatory at Mount Holyoke College give a glimpse of the delights inside at the annual bulb show. A few pots of bulbs and forced flowering shrubs in vases adorn the work bench in the head house. Turn left and you will find the real bulb show.

At first glance you may wonder where the flowers are. Through the doorway all you see is the center bench, a delightful minimalist display featuring a narrow water rill edged with small boxwood shrubs and green grass and backed by a hug terra cotta amphora urn, signaling the theme of “Primavera,” which means spring in Italian. A planting of blue ipheion is the only bright color.

But walk down the steps and you are surrounded by gorgeous flowers in full bloom all along the edges of the conservatory. Grouped by color, there are tulips and daffodils and “little bulbs” accented by herbaceous plants like primroses, cineraria (which Mount Holyoke seems to grow especially well) and the curious pocketbook plant, calceolaria.

Along the entrance wall are enormous specimens of Schizanthus, an annual also known as poor man’s orchid or angel wings. One section of the annual has pale yellow flowers while the other side is lavender. A visitor was so impressed by the unusual flower that he asked a staff member what the plant was and whether he could grow it in his garden. The answer was to find seed by mail order because few local nurseries carry it.

At the other end of the center bench are two sets of pansies with complementary plants. On one side are deep blue pansies paired with a stunning cineraria, and blue scillas. On the other side, orange lachenalia and pocketbook plant echo the apricot tones of these pansies. In the middle are dozens of parsley and basil plants along with thyme spilling out of a knocked over terra cotta container. There are camellias in huge pots and vases of forced cherry blossoms, delicate spirea, forsythia and quince nestled among the pots of bulbs.

I have loved ipheion since discovering it at the local bulb shows but I had never noticed how some varieties have stripes along the back of the flower. Details like this are noticeable in the informal display at Mount Holyoke where you can appreciate the individual plants even when massed together. What wonderful design ideas you can glean from seeing different varieties of daffodils and tulips matched with freesia and herbaceous plants. The Mount Holyoke show closes officially this weekend. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free but a donation in the box is welcome.

At Smith, many of the forced bulbs are sold to the public beginning March 23 at noon. (Friends of the Botanic Garden get first dibs starting at 9 a.m.) The public sale is noon to 3 on March 23 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 24.

PLANT SALE: Trees take years to mature but if you plant small ones now you can watch them grow alongside your children or grandchildren. Hampshire Conservation District offers small seedling trees, shrubs, fruits, perennials and herbs in its annual spring plant sale. Orders are due by April 10 with pickup on April 27.

Julie Meyer, who coordinates the sale for the conservation district, which is part of the USDA, said about 100 people, mostly home gardeners, participate in the sale each year. Anyone can purchase plants by using the order form at www.pioneervalleyconservation.org.

Strawberry plants are the most popular in recent years but evergreen tree seedlings have been a mainstay of the sale for decades. People buy them for windbreaks and soil erosion or to start a Christmas tree farm. For instance, Fraser Fir, a desirable holiday tree sells for premium prices in December. You can buy a bundle of foot-tall fir seedlings at five for $12 through the conservation district. In a few years you will have your own holiday tree.

Shrubs are sold in two-gallon pots for $22 to $28. Look for mountain laurel, inkberry, oak leaf hydrangea or ninebark. Fruit trees are also popular with new favorite pawpaw likely to sell out quickly. The pawpaws are grown locally by Jonathan Bates.

Meyer said that the plant sale, known to old-timers in the area as the “tree sale,” is the main fundraiser each year for the local conservation district. In other states, she said, there is government funding but Massachusetts lacks a budget line for the conservation district. If you have questions, call Meyer at 230-7722 or email her at 413treesale@gmail.com.

BRINGING NATURE HOME: The annual Spring Symposium sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association is tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. Walk-ins are welcome for the keynote speaker, Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens,” and two sets of eight workshops each. Admission is $30. Bring your own lunch.

PERMACULTURE: Llani Davidson, of Gardens for Change, an area landscape consulting company on edible landscaping, will explain the basics of permaculture on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Sunderland Public Library. Learn how working with nature by enhancing soil and using perennial as well as annual vegetables and fruits can transform your backyard.

GRAFTING APPLE TREES: Wes Autio, apple expert at the University of Massachusetts, offers a hands-on workshop on grafting apple trees on March 23 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown. Bring your own lunch. The fee is $50. Register online at www.UMassGarden.com. This is part of the 2013 Mass Aggie Seminars.

PRUNING: Jessica Groleau will demonstrate basic pruning techniques and give a timeline for tackling common landscape shrubs at a free workshop March 23 at 10 a.m. at Annie’s Garden & Gift Store, Route 116, North Amherst. Registration is encouraged. Call 549-6359.

SYMPOSIA DEADLINES: There are two more spring symposia sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, one in Holyoke on April 6, and the other in Lenox on April 13. The registration deadline for the Holyoke program is March 30. For registration forms and more information, check the website:www.wmassmastergardeners.org.

GARDEN TALKS: Bay State Perennial Garden in Whately, owned by Peter Flynn, is holding two free garden talks. On March 23 at 1 p.m. Steve Hebert of The Plant Group, a major producer of perennial plants in Connecticut, which supplies many area nurseries, will give “Confessions of a Perennial Salesman.” Hebert will share his favorites and tell you how to grow them. On March 30, Bay State staffers Anne Marie Kostecki and Dan Zima will present slides of their own gardens, also at 1 p.m. Both lectures will be held at the S. White Dickinson Memorial Library, 202 Chestnut Plain Road, in Whately. The red brick library is in the heart of the village. Bay State Perennial Farm will be open for the season in early April. Check the website:wwwbaystateperennial.com.

HOME SHOW: The Mass West Home and Better Living Show is this weekend at Smith College in the Indoor Track and Tennis Center off Route 66. The hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5. This is a new venue for the annual show, which this year will feature workshops with Debbie Windoloski of Gardenscapes in Hadley. For more information the website is www.masswesthomeshow.com.

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