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Beyond bulbs: Spring flower shows offer spectacular delights

  • Tom Clark, director and curator of the mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden, works in the Talcott Greenhouse on the spring flower show, “Seasons of Change.” Hanging from the glass above is part of an art installation by three students, Deborah Korboe, Emily Damon and Lauren Ferrara. The wax impressions, by Damon, represent spring in the three-season piece. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Timing and temperature control are key to Mount Holyoke’s display, which includes Iris histrioides (Katherines Gold). STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This leaf is part of a hanging art installation by three Mount Holyoke College students, Deborah Korboe, Emily Damon and Lauren Ferrara. The section of leaves, by Korboe, are at the entrance to the flower show "Season of Change", and represent the first of the three seasons that students experience while at college, followed a section of molded clear and white forms representing winter. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cineraria, an accessory plant at the Mount Holyoke show. “We like to introduce people to new things they can try in their own gardens,” says Clark. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • “When the temperature hit 60 degrees a couple of weeks ago,” said curator Tom Clark, “all we could do to keep things cool was to open all the vents in the greenhouse.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • These hand-cut and embossed leaves are part of a hanging art installation by three Mount Holyoke College students, Deborah Korboe, Emily Damon and Lauren Ferrara. The section of leaves, by Korboe, are at the entrance to the flower show “Seasons of Change” and represent the first of the three seasons that students experience while at the college. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • These molded plexiglass forms are also part of the installation at Mount Holyoke. This section, by student Lauren Ferrara, represents winter in the three-season piece. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • These molded plexiglass forms are part of a hanging art installation by three Mount Holyoke College students, Deborah Korboe, Emily Damon and Lauren Ferrara. This section, by Ferrara represents winter in the three-season piece. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Above, Tom Clark, director and curator of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden, prepares for the show in the Talcott Greenhouse. Hanging from the glass above is part of the complementary student art installation. The cast and molded wax shapes, by Emily Damon, represent spring in the three-season piece. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Mount Holyoke College Talcott Greenhouse, home to the spring flower show, “Seasons of Change.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Staffers and students prepare for the shows for months to create a profusion of synchronized blooms. Submitted photo/Botanic Garden of Smith College



For the Gazette 
Friday, March 08, 2019

Every year in late winter, when we’re all desperate for the sights and smells of springtime, the botanic gardens of Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges bring us their fabulous annual spring bulb shows. This year’s shows began last Saturday and will run through March 17, promising, as always, to delight visitors from all over New England.

At Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory and Mount Holyoke’s Talcott Greenhouse, staff members and students spent months preparing the stunning arrays of crocuses, hyacinths, narcissi, irises, lilies, tulips and more that will come into their own during the first two weeks of March. A question that many visitors ask is: how do you make sure that everything is ready to bloom at the right time?

Over the many years that the colleges have been putting on the shows, they have refined the technique of synchronized blooming. To prepare for the annual bulb 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. Spring plants grown from seed, such as pansies, are started in the fall. Because the plants 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. “We can push them or slow them down if we need to,” said Tom Clark, director and curator of Mount Holyoke’s botanic garden. “And we don’t want them all to be in full bloom on opening day.”

But there are limits to what can be done. “When the temperature hit 60 degrees a couple of weeks ago,” he said, “all we could do to keep things cool was to open all the vents in the greenhouse.”

Snow is also a challenge, he added, because it does not melt when the greenhouse roofs are cool. “If we warm up the greenhouse to get rid of the snow, we’re making it too warm for the plants.”

In addition to the usual spring favorites, the shows will feature smaller bulbs such as chionodoxa (glory of the snow) and muscari (grape hyacinth). “We like to have some plants that aren’t so common,” said Clark. “We like to introduce people to new things they can try in their own gardens.” One such plant is the fritillaria meleagris, or snake’s head fritillary. It grows only 8 to 10 inches and has nodding, bell-shaped flowers in colors ranging from white to dusty-wine and purple. Smith’s show this year will feature “a slew of anemone nestled together which makes for a great sight,” said greenhouse assistant Dan Babineau, who does much of the planning and execution for the show.

Both shows use “supporting actors” from the permanent collections to add dimension and texture to the displays. And both feature branches from spring-flowering trees that are forced into bloom with heat and moisture. “I'm particularly excited for the many new forced branches,” said Babineau. “The buds of cornus mas and officinalis, dogwoods, are on the way along with a couple varieties of cherry, some apple blossoms and more.”

Both shows are open March 2-17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The Smith Show is open until 8 p.m. Friday to Sunday. For more information about the shows, go to: mtholyoke.edu/botanic and garden. smith.edu.

Both shows are open March 2-17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The Smith Show is open until 8 p.m. Friday to Sunday. For more information about the shows, go to: mtholyoke.edu/botanic and garden. smith.edu.