Behind the scenes at Smith College’s Chrysanthemum show

  • The Chrysanthemum show at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory which opens this Saturday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Chrysanthemum show at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory which opens this Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Sojkowski and Dan Babineau, Green House Technicians at Smith Colleges Lyman Conservatory with the Mum Show which opens this Saturday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Fall Chrysanthemum Show at the Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College opens this Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Greenhouse technician Steve Sojkowski (above, left) has worked on the annual show for 27 years. He plans and designs the show starting in December with colleague Dan Babineau. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Chrysanthemum show at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory which opens this Saturday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Chrysanthemum show at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory which opens this Saturday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Thousands of visitors come to see 20 different types of mums — including 126 student hybrids. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Chrysanthemum show at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory which opens this Saturday. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 11/2/2018 12:25:22 PM

If it’s November in Northampton, it’s time for the Fall Chrysanthemum Show at the Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College. “Every year it’s different. That keeps it interesting,” said greenhouse technician Steve Sojkowski, who has been working on the show every year for the past 27 years. The show opens Nov. 3 and runs through Nov. 18.

A longstanding tradition at Smith, the Chrysanthemum Show began in the early 1900s to showcase the hybridizing experiments of Smith College’s horticulture class. Horticulture had been introduced at Smith in 1900 as part of its well-established Botany curriculum; chrysanthemums were a relatively easy subject for student experimentation. As always, the show will feature chrysanthemums that were hybridized by last year’s horticulture students.

Thousands of people visit the show every year. But as they admire the astonishing variety of flowers, they may give little thought to the incredible amount of planning and labor that goes into producing such an exhibition. Greenhouse technician Dan Babineau works with Sojkowski to plan and design the show. Babineau is a relative newcomer to Smith. This is the second show he’s been fully involved in. The team begins working on the show back in December, ordering hundreds of plants with a wide variety of sizes, colors, forms, and bloom times.

The greenhouse staff repots and pinches back the mums regularly until mid-September to delay the formation of buds. Generally, the biggest plants take the longest time to grow, said Babineau. They are assisted in this by student workers and interns, who also help set up the show. “We couldn’t do it without them,” said Sojkowski. “You stand for hours on concrete in a very warm greenhouse. It’s incredibly labor intensive.”

The show includes 20 different types of mums. These range in size from the tallest “exhibition” mums, which are grown on single standards and feature one dramatic flower, to the miniature “gnome” mums. This year, Babineau experimented with the Bonsai form, creating an intriguingly twisted, tiny cascade mum. “Mums are very malleable in their forms,” he said. “I’m not a Bonsai expert. Real Bonsai people would probably not be impressed by this!”

The show’s most popular varieties include “spider” mums, whose long, skinny petals can reach a diameter of 8 inches or more, and “cascade” mums, whose branches spill over and out in a naturally twisting form. Two years ago, Sojkowski designed a wall of cascade mums using a Japanese technique of training the lower branches to create a waterfall of flowers running down the wall of the greenhouse. This has become a crowd-pleaser.

The Mum Show always features different color schemes. This year there’s a show-stopping display of white, cream, and orange flowers. “I think of it as the ‘Creamsicle’ section,” said Babineau. He’s also excited about ‘Limerick Lime,’ a green variety that’s new to the Mum Show this year. “It’s going to look cool,” he said, pointing to the tightly bunched cluster of petals that’s almost ready to open up.

This year, there are 126 student hybrid mums in the show. “It’s a really good crop,” said Sojkowski. Approximately 30 horticulture students hybridized the plants last year, choosing different plants to cross-pollinate. Sojkowski and Babineau plant the seeds of each hybrid in January and care for the plants through the year, pinching them back and shaping them for their November debut. The public votes on their favorite hybridized mum, and the winning student and plant have their picture posted on the Smith College Mums Hall of Fame website.

On the eve of the show’s opening, Sojkowski and Babineau have finished putting the final touches in place. Babineau said, “I’m already in my head thinking about what I want to do next year.”

The Details:

The Chrysanthemum Show will kick off Fri. Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the Carroll Room at the Campus Center, with a lecture by Victoria Johnson, professor at Hunter College and author of “American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic.” Johnson will discuss the work of Hosack, who was a family doctor and friend to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Not only was Hosack the attending doctor at the famous duel, in 1801 he founded the first botanical garden in the United States on 20 acres of farmland in Manhattan, where he made important contributions to botany and medicine.

The lecture will be followed by a reception and book signing at the illuminated Lyman Plant House and a preview of the Mum Show. Free and open to the public.

The show will open Nov. 3 and run through Nov. 18. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, Fri. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Members are welcome 9 to 10 a.m. all days. Suggested contribution is $5. For more information, go to:

The Chrysanthemum Show is wheelchair accessible, and parking is available along College Lane across from the Lyman Conservatory for the duration of the show. For more information on the show, go to:

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the Get Growing column since 2016.

Upcoming garden events

Autumnal exploration of Amherst conservation area 

Autumn is a busy time for wildlife. Birds are migrating, squirrels are stashing food, and trees are preparing themselves for the winter months. On Nov. 11, from 1 to 3 p.m., Kestrel Land Trust in Amherst is hosting a walk led by Ted Watt, Naturalist and Environmental Educator with the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, to explore a little-known Amherst conservation area. The walk will go through a red-maple floodplain forest. Watt will talk about what various wildlife species and plants in the area are doing to prepare themselves for the transition to winter. The walk is free, but registration is required, and space is limited to 20 participants. For more information and to register, go to:

Oh deer: science Saturday at Hitchcock Center

On Nov. 10 from 10 to 11 a.m. the Hitchcock Center in Amherst will hold its Second Saturday Family Science Series. Come learn about the lives of white-tailed deer, one of our most common yet quiet mammals. Free; registration appreciated. Go to: hitchcock for more information and to register.

Sustainable practicesin the garden

For gardeners interested in ecologically sound practices of cultivation, Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge will host Rooted in Place, its third annual Ecological Gardening Symposium, on Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This full-day program, led by experts Neil Diboll, Jeff Lowenfels, Lee Buttala and Dr. Robert J. Gegear, will focus on managing the landscape sustainably to create a biodiverse refuge for pollinators, birds, butterflies and other creatures whose habitats are being destroyed by development and other man-made interventions. Diboll will provide a step-by-step approach to converting a small area to a prairie garden or a larger space to a beautiful meadow.

Seventh annual Hilltown Fall Seed Swap

 It's time again to gather those seeds and share the abundance of future life and food and culture with your friends and neighbors. On Nov. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m., come join the festivities at Cummington Community House, 33 Main Street. There will be special guests and presentations. All are welcome — you do not need to bring seed to attend. The suggested donation is a sliding scale of $5 - $10. For more information, go to: hilltownseeds. or contact Sadie at 475-2692.

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