Mickey Rathbun: Bulb shows provide a sneak preview of spring

  • Purple tulips on the flowerbed closeup Zoonar/O.Kovach—Getty Images/Zoonar RF

Published: 2/22/2018 3:01:56 PM

In March it’s still too early to see much blooming outside. But here in the Pioneer Valley we’re fortunate to have two fabulous spring bulbs shows, at Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory and Mount Holyoke College’s Talcott Greenhouse. A dazzling array of crocuses, hyacinths, narcissi, irises, lilies, tulips and more will be in full bloom to delight our winter-weary senses.

Smith College’s show is a tradition that began in the early 1900s. Mount Holyoke College had its first show in 1972. Over the many years that the colleges have been putting on the shows they have mastered the technique of synchronized blooming.

To prepare for the annual shows, students at both colleges pot thousands of bulbs and put them in cold storage to simulate a period of winter dormancy. In January, the pots are brought into the greenhouses to wake up and start growing.

Because the bulbs all have different blooming schedules, there’s an artful science to bringing the bulbs into flower during the same two-week period. Timing and temperature control are key to creating the spectacular display. I think of the greenhouse managers as orchestra conductors carefully coaxing all the musicians into a breathtaking finale.

Mount Holyoke’s bulb show takes on a different theme each year. This year’s theme is “Gateway to Spring.” According to Tom Clark, director of Mount Holyoke’s Botanic Garden, the idea arose early in the planning process when it was suggested that art students might want to be involved in designing the display. Under the supervision of studio art professor Joe Smith, a group of students has created a sculptural installation that is evocative of the college’s iconic main gate.

Clark said that this year’s floral design is based on groupings of color across the spectrum, from yellow to orange to red, and so on. Patches of white flowers provide transitions between colors.

“We’re excited about it,” said Clark. “The plants all look fantastic, and so do the supporting actors, things like pansies and cinerarias.”

At Smith College, Botanic Garden Director Tim Johnson will give an opening lecture for the Bulb Show in the Campus Center Carroll Room on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. His topic is Stories About Seeds. This lecture will be “a journey through time,” starting with the emergence of the flowering plant lineage 125 million years ago. Johnson will discuss how the humble skill of seed saving altered the course of human history and describe the crucial work being done today to preserve biodiversity and cultural identities in seed banks.

Following his lecture there will be a reception at the illuminated Lyman Plant House to celebrate the opening of the show.

Both bulb shows run from March 3 through March 18. The Mount Holyoke show is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free; donations are welcome.

The Smith show is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the show is open until 8 p.m. The suggested donation is $5. Special members-only hours at Smith are daily from 9 to 10 a.m.

Following the close of both shows, the public is invited to purchase many of the hardy bulbs from the show. These can be planted outdoors when the weather warms up or displayed indoors in pots. At Mount Holyoke, the sale runs from March 19 to 23, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The sale at Smith will be held March 24, noon to 3 p.m. and March 25, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members can purchase bulbs March 24, 9 a.m. to noon. Shoppers should bring their own flats or cardboard trays.

For more information, contact the Botanic Garden of Smith College at (413) 585-2740 or visit the website at www.smith.edu/garden; Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden at (413) 538-2116 or visit the website at www.mtholyoke.edu/botanic

Seed swap and workshops at Hamp Farmers Market

There will be a seed swap at the Northampton Farmers Market Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feel free to come even if you have no seed to swap. There also will be 3 workshops on seed saving. 10:30: Beginning seed-saving; 11:30: Indigenous seed keeping; 11:30: Plant breeding workshop. Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St.

No-till veggie gardening

This week’s Hadley Garden Center clinic will focus on no-till vegetable gardening, a healthy soil approach to growing veggies. 1 p.m. at 285 Russell St. (Route 9) For more information, call (413) 584-1423. Come early. The sessions are free but fill up fast.

Forests and the future of our climate

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. Kestrel Land Trust in Amherst is hosting a presentation by internationally renowned climate scientist Dr. William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Medford. In his lecture, "Forests, the Critical Component for Addressing Long-Term Climate Change," he will share his perspective on a crucial part of the climate change solution: protecting and restoring our forests, as well as wetlands and grasslands. He also will share his insights on the drawbacks of using bioenergy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

 This event is co-sponsored by Kestrel Land Trust and Smith College Center for Environment, Ecological Design & Sustainability (CEEDS). Seating is limited to 100 and registration is required. Donations are appreciated.

For more information and to register, go to: kestreltrust.org.

Tree pruning and tree health

The Hitchcock Center in Amherst is holding a session on tree pruning and tree health with Walker Korby of Whole Tree on March 3, 9 a.m. to noon.

Designed for home gardeners, this workshop will provide participants with a foundation in the science and practice of pruning trees. Korby will cover techniques and introduce important resources and equipment. Demonstrations on site at the Hitchcock Center, 845 West St., Amherst. Members $15; Non-members $20. Registration is required. Go to: hitchcockcenter.org

Spring gardening symposium

Every spring, Western Mass. Master Gardeners Association,WMMGA puts on a series of symposia that are guaranteed to get your gardening fingers twitching.

The first symposium will be held March 17, from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. This year’s theme is Your Living Landscape; the featured speaker is Henry Homeyer. Known as “The Gardening Guy,” Homeyer is a writer, garden designer and organic gardening educator based in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire. He is a UNH Extension Master Gardener and writes a weekly gardening column for the several New England newspapers. He is a regular commentator on gardening for Vermont Public Radio, and has taught organic and sustainable gardening at the college level.

In his talk, “Sculpting the Living Landscape,” he will discuss how to create beauty in both vegetable and flower gardens through the use of well-placed woody plants, stone, structures and by choosing plants that contribute to the landscape with their color and forms.

In addition to the talk, symposium participants will be able to choose from 16 topics in two concurrent sessions, offering ideas for nourishing gardeners, their gardens and the planet.

Register early to be sure you get into your top choice of small-group sessions. The cost is $35.

There will be a book table, marketplace and refreshments. An optional lunch from River Valley Market can be ordered in advance.

For more information, go to wmmga.org or contact Lucy Alman at gardensymposium123@gmail.com or (413) 665-2181.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.


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