Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show

Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show

Mount Holyoke Spring Flower Show

The Mount Holyoke Spring Flower Show, “Gateway to Spring” is open. Now in its 47th year, this beloved College tradition features a thoughtfully designed display of thousands of colorful and fragrant spring favorites, including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, pansies, cinerarias, pocketbook plants and more to entice and inspire those eager for spring’s arrival.
This year’s show also features a large fountain created by three Mount Holyoke students, Deb Kelly,  Stella Chepkwony and Samiha Tasnim,  evocative of the Fidelia Nash Field Gate. The show is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. March 3rd – 18th and is free and open to the public.
Mount Holyoke Spring Flower Show 2018

Mount Holyoke Spring Flower Show 2018

Smith College is also holding its Spring Bulb Show until March 18, 2018. 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday extended hours 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.
Spring is coming!

Mount Holyoke College Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

The Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show is blooming and continues through Sunday, March 19. The Greenhouse is open from 10 am – 4 pm.

Winter had come back to give us a ferocious bite on the day I met Tom Clark, the new Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden. We walked through the Talcott Greenhouse door into the fragrant woodland glade of this spring’s Flower Show. The title of the show, Spring Pools, refers to the three pools that lie beneath flowering trees (or at least their branches) surrounded by the little bulbs of early spring.

I am always fascinated by the work that goes into putting on an exhibit like this. Bulbs have to be ordered the summer before and then the imaginative greenhouse team chooses a theme and creates the design. After the bulbs are potted up in the fall the long schedule begins of bringing them into life and into a period of early bloom, but not too full bloom, begins. Once the shoots are up it takes careful monitoring of light and temperature in Talcott Greenhouse so that most of the bulbs will be at an early stage of bloom which will last for the two weeks of the Mount Holyoke College Flower Show.

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

At this point in the show the hyacinths were providing most of the fragrance, but many unusual varieties of small daffodils, glory of the snow, low-growing windflowers in white and blue, pansies, muscari, and tender primroses surrounded the placid pools while ranked plantings on the sides of the greenhouse included larger plants like the Vancouver Centennial geranium with its small red blossoms, and the fat spotted blossoms of calceolaria. Ends of the room were lavishly filled with camellias, blooming witch hazel, canary broom, freesias, orchids and annual schizianthus with its beautiful flowers in stunning and gentle colors.

The show was all ready for its opening on March 4 and Tom Clark had time to chat and show me around. Clark, a Hadley native, had worked for the MountHolyokeBotanic Garden for 12 years, developing and caring for various gardens across the campus as well as responsibilities in Talcott Greenhouse until 2006 when he left to become Curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Last fall Clark returned to Mount Holyoke as Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden, an area of three acres or so around the greenhouse. His return occurred at the time the Botanic Garden was leaving the purview of Facilities and Management and moving to the Academic side. “I thought this was a reaffirmation of the full value of the Botanic Garden,” Clark said.

Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Flower Show are a small part of the purpose of the Botanic Garden. Clark explained that while the greenhouse staff does not teach horticulture classes the staff is a resource for students, mostly from biology and environmental studies. Some students may have their own research projects and there is room in the greenhouse for their use.

He explained that the gardens, indoors and out, are not just about providing pretty flowers and spoke passionately about the staff’s “obligation to preserve plants.”

As an example he told me about the Franklinia altamaha tree which is no longer to be found in the wild, only in cultivation. This tree was discovered along the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia by William Bartram in 1765. Bartram was the son of John Bartram, a self taught botanist who collected seeds and plants, propagating them in his Philadelphia nursery, creating the most varied collection of North American plants in existence at that time. Many of these plants and seeds were sold to estate owners in England.  William Bartram named the tree for Ben Franklin who was a good family friend. All the Franklinia trees that grow today come from Bartram’s collection of trees and seed.

Mount Holyoke has a Franklinia tree. Because it is only hardy to zone 5 and Massachusetts is at the edge of its range a protected spot will be chosen for planting.  Clark explained that by telling the stories behind plants visitors to the Botanic Garden will better understand their history and their importance.

Because of his dedication to the need for conservation and preservation of endangered plants Clark acquired young plants of two of the rarest plants in North America. The Florida yew (Taxus floridiana) only grows in a small area of Florida. The Florida Torreya, (Torreya taxifolia), is also a yew which has been attacked by a Florida fungus. Both are listed as endangered species. Clark will grow his small plants in the greenhouse for some years before thinking about a place for them in the garden. The goal is to see if they can be preserved outside their natural range.

Beyond the flower show there is a room featuring succulents of all sizes, and the conservatory filled with familiar orchids and begonias as well as many large and small tropical plants. This is a world of plants, a world of history, a world of stories and conservation. Flowers are pretty, but they are not the reason for the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden’s existence.


Calceolaria or pocketbook plant – boun to cheer us

The Mount Holyoke Flower Show will continue through Sunday, March 19.  Talcott Greenhouse is open every day from 10 am – 4 pm. The show is free, but I am sure donations are always welcome.

The Bulb Show at Smith College also continues at the Lyman Plant House every day through March 19, from 10 am – 4 pm. Suggested donation is $5.

Between the Rows

Dreams of Spring and Giverny

Smith College Bulb Show 2015

Smith College Bulb Show March 2015

We have been have nightmarish ice on the walkways and roads, so I dream of Giverny and other landscapes that are warm and painted in shades of spring. I’m counting the days to the Smith College Bulb Show which will open this year on Saturday, March 4. Mark your calendar.

Smith College Bulb Show 2015

Smith College Bulb Show 2015

In 2015 the theme was Claude Monet’s beautiful gardens in Giverny. I wonder what the theme will be this year.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The theme of this year’s Smith College  Bulb Show is The Evil Garden of Edward Gorey. There is more black and white in this show than usual, but the tongue-in-cheek tableaux next to various Gorey drawings, a dark but humorous look  at the garden.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The photo above is a reference to a Gorey drawing Great Uncle Franz being strangled by a snake.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

But I ask you – how evil could any garden be  with all that fragrant pink?  I’m sure the Gorey House is equally charming.

The exhibit is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm EXCEPT Friday, Saturday and Sunday when it is open until 8 pm. A donation of $5 is suggested.

While there don’t forget to look at the new Permanent Exhibit – Plant Life Through the Ages: A Mural of Plant Evolution painted by Richard Evans.

Rise of Land Flora

Panel 3 – Rise of Land Flora




Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Bulb Show, Mt. Holyoke College

Russell Billings at Talcott Greenhouse, Mt. Holyoke

While the rest of us have been shivering in our snowy landscapes, Russell Billings, Director of the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke College, has been busy cooling and slowly warming hundreds of bulbs and other blooming plants coaxing them to a perfect stage of bloom. On Saturday, March 2 the doors of the greenhouse will open to the public to present Primavera, this year’s bulb show featuring glorious tulips and daffodils as well as many plants of the Italian garden, herbs, camellias, oleander, lavender, and box. This year terra cotta Tuscan pots add an extra Italianate touch to the displays.

While we enjoyed a brief period of sun, Billings ushered me into the warm Talcott Greenhouse where the air was fresh and sweet. The room was brilliant with color, banks of cineraria and calceolaria, trays of pale schizanthus with delicate little flowers that I thought looked like tiny irises, as well as those familiar early bloomers, pansies and primroses.

Billings said the week before the show is busy with students and staff moving potted plants out of the working rooms of the greenhouse into the main show room where they will be arranged around a reflecting pool. The brick edged pool is surrounded by a miniature fantasy of fine turf which was grown in flats. “Sometimes we arrange moving water for the bulb show,” Billings said. “People love that, but it is different every year. We have never repeated a theme.”

While it gets very busy in the last weeks before the flower show, Billings said preparations actually begin the summer before. “There is always a theme, and then I order special plants that will work within that theme. We also start to design how to arrange those plants in the greenhouse,” he said.

Tulips in the Talcott Greenhouse

Billings took me into the carefully temperature-controlled cool greenhouse where the tulips and daffodils are just coming into bloom. Remembering the time mice ate tulip bulbs I was forcing in my basement, I asked if they ever had trouble with critters. He said he has had mice enlarge drainage holes in a pot to get to the bulbs, but a bigger problem is with chipmunks and squirrels who get into the greenhouse during the warmer weather.

All the plants are in beautiful condition, but Billings said they did have trouble with whitefly earlier. He does not like to use poisons in the greenhouse. “Horticultural oil takes care of most of the problems,” he said. When he does have to use something stronger he makes sure it is nothing that requires closing up the greenhouse for longer than four hours.

Billings took me on tour of the slightly steamy tropical and subtropical rooms of the beautiful glass house which was completed in 1899.  Here is the permanent collection, which includes orchids, cacti and succulents, ferns, begonias, bromeliads, and aquatic plants. The collection is used for study by the students in biology and ecology classes. “We also give a plant to every incoming freshman, usually a jade plant or aloe. I tell them to water only when the soil is dry. But some students are so conscientious that they water once a week or too generously and the plant dies. I’ve been tweaking the planting mix and I think I have something now that drains really quick and makes the students more successful.” He reiterated advice I have heard from other plants people. More houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

So what happens to the bulbs and other plants after the show closes down? Billings began his career at Mt. Holyoke over 30 years ago on the grounds crew so he is happy to move some of the plants to locations around campus. Others are sold and some are just given away. “People like the tulips  and can’t bear to see them tossed. They put them in their gardens at home, but they rarely survive so we just give those away. At least half of the daffodils will bloom again next year.”

The free Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 2 until Sunday, March 17. Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups should call 413-538-2116 ahead of time to make arrangements. The greenhouse is universally accessible.

The greenhouse is located right next to the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum which is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m and Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. A current exhibit, Albert Bierstadt and the Legacy of Concern, features Bierstadt’s luminous paintings of the American west. The greenhouse and the art museum will give you two different types of experience, but both about beauty of the natural world.

Flora at Lyman Plant House, Smith College

The Lyman Plant House at Smith College is also holding its annual Spring Bulb Show March 2 until March 17. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. In addition, an exhibit at the Church Exhibition Gallery titled From Petals to Paper: Poetic Inspiration from Flowers will be on view. This display of contemporary poetry inspired by the beauty of nature was created by Janan Scott ’13 and Liliana Farrel ’13, who have both been working in the Smith College Poetry Center for the past two years. The exhibits are free and universally accessible.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2013


Welcome to Boston Flower Show and BLOOMS!

Boston Flower Show

The Boston Flower Show and Blooms continues through Sunday, March 18. Hope you have a chance to attend.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Smith College Chrysanthemums

Sometimes a chrysanthemum is just a mum, but sometimes a chrysanthemum is Art. Artistically grown chrysanthemums will be on display during Smith College’s annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show which will run November 5-20 in the Lyman Plant House. A $2 donation is suggested. On display will be the stunning chrysanthemum cascades and other skillfully pruned and supported chrysanthemums, some in pillars, and some trained to a single stem with a giant bloom.

Like the spring Bulb Show the Chrysanthemum Show depends on the knowledge of greenhouse staff and students to bring the plants into bloom just in time for opening day by carefully controlling light and temperature. The Japanese style cascades, rarely seen in the U.S., require the patient pinching and arranging of plant shoots through a chicken wire frame to create this stunning effect. The Chrysanthemum Show is a glorious last hurrah to the end of the blooming season.

This year the show will actually begin on Friday, November 4 with A Garden Writer’s Journey, a talk by Paula Dietz, Smith alum, co-founder of the Friends of the Smith Botanic Garden, and author of “On Gardens: Selected Essays.” The talk will be held in the Campus Center Carroll Room at 7:30 p.m. and will be followed by a reception where Dietz will sign her book. The Lyman Plant House will also be illuminated for a preview of the show for attendees.

In “On Gardens” Paula Dietz writes of her experiences over decades in all manner of gardens around the world from the U.S. to the serene gardens of Japan, evoking the sense of the culture and personalities that create gardens, and the way they are used. She uses her knowledge of history, art and literature to bring those gardens and gardeners to life for the reader. I was particularly delighted by the section on parks and public spaces, seeing some of the landscapes that are familiar to me through her eyes and sensibility.

Dietz also reminded me of how important chrysanthemums are to Asians. A couple of years ago I attended a rare exhibit of Kiku, Japanese style arrangements of potted chrysanthemums at the New York Botanic Garden. I saw how the artistry of Japanese gardeners reflects ideals of perfect form and mindfulness.

I also thought of the way the Chinese consider chrysanthemums the iconic symbol of autumn and imagined holding a moon viewing party in September on the night of the full moon, when the chrysanthemums are in bloom. We could search for Chang’e, the beautiful lady in the moon with her companion the jade rabbit, and eat sweet mooncakes.

The organizers of the chrysanthemum show must also be thinking about the place mums have in Asian culture. On Saturday, November 12  at 2 p.m. students in the Culture of the Lyric in Traditional China: Plants and Poetry class will read selected poems in the Church Exhibition Gallery. Chrysanthemum tea will be served. I should say this delicate tea is made with the blossoms of a particular chrysanthemum, not any old hardy mum.

Dan Ladd gourd sculpture

The Church Gallery is also hosting a new exhibit Shaping Plants: Fruits, Shoots and Roots. The artist, Dan Ladd, is exhibiting examples of his collaborations with nature, gourds grown inside molds to become sculptures, and photographs of pruning and grafting trees and plants into unique and whimsical structures. His art has grown out of his fascination with the adaptability of plants. Ladd will be on hand Friday, November 18 at 6:30 p.m. for an informal talk in the gallery.

While working with different plants in a totally different way, Ladd has similar patience and skill in his handling of plants as the Lyman House staff takes in preparing for this show which is such a treat for the broader community beyond Smith College.

Smith College is known for the excellent education if offers its enrolled students, but it is also an educational resource for nearby communities. The perennial and rock gardens that surround the Lyman Plant House contain hundred of plants, all carefully labeled. These labels educate local gardeners about what blooms when, and how late into the season they will bloom, and the exact names of the plants so they can be brought into their own personal gardens.

I have always been impressed by the way the campus acts as an arboretum, with each tree tagged and labeled. When it is time for any of us to add a tree to our own domestic landscape we are often handicapped by our limited knowledge of trees in general, and the trees that will thrive in our climate in particular. A stroll around the Smith campus is all it takes to be inspired, and given the information to choose a beautiful and interesting tree for our own gardens. A guide to the trees is on sale.

This is not the place to describe all the gardens at Smith, but many readers may have ambled along the paths by Paradise Pond and found the Wildflower and Woodland Garden or the Japanese Garden for Reflection and Contemplation. The Capen Garden includes a rustic rose arbor and a gazebo. There is a garden for every mood and season, or search for learning.

The Lyman Plant House is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is wheelchair accessible. A special handicapped parking space is just outside the Plant House entry. Full information about the gardens and planning a visit is at


Lyman Plant House and Smith College

Lyman Plant House at Smith College

Last week I visited the Lyman Plant House at Smith College in preparation for a column and post about the Annual Chrysanthemum Show which begins Friday, November 5 with a talk by Smith alum and author Paula Dietz about the gardens she has visited and written about in her book, On Gardens.

The Smith Botanical Garden and the Lyman Plant House are treasures for the whole community to use. The Lyman Plant House is open every day (except Thanksgiving and the period between December 23 – January 3) from 8:30 am – 4 pm, and the gardens surrounding it are available every day of the year. I was amazed at the amount of bloom.

Actually, I know dahlias are still blooming madly up in the higher elevations. Not only at Smith.

There are lots of labels on the plants in the Botanic Garden, but I could not find one for this beautiful plant, of which there were several wonderful floriferous clumps.  Any ideas?

This plant was another mystery. It looks like a regular daisy flower, but look at that foliage – not daisy foliage. Any more ideas?

As a part of the Rock Garden are a number of trough gardens which I think is a wonderful way for any of us to enjoy a few alpine plants.

There is an iron fence that separates the garden from the roadway, but on the road side of the fence there are plantings. Even those passing can enjoy the garden without entering.

This dramatic red planting is at the doorway to the Lyman Plant House.   Wow!

I was familiar with many of these plants (not all obviously) but I was amazed to see cactus included in the garden. Hardy in Northampton?  I guess so.

Spoons and Quills – Mums that is


Nurseries and roadside stands are filled with tidy pots of tidy chrysanthemums, but I planted a collection of these fall bloomers in my Circle Garden this spring. The chrysanthemum family is so various in form, as well as color, that I wanted to branch out a little. My collection of six from Bluestone Perennials got whittled down to three because of rabbits! Fortunately, a reader suggested black netting which discouraged the bunnies, but ineptly placed as it was, it tangled the plants making the usual pinching  and pruning impossible. Still, look at these blooms. Undeterred by the frost we on Wednesday night.


‘Joanette is a quilled mum, which means the petals are like little tubes, which do not show up very well in my photo. “Starlet’ is a spoon mum, which means the tip of the petal is a little spoon shape that narrows down to a rolled tube in the center. This provides a little more interest and fun to the fall garden than a neat pot of fall mums. Don’t you think? These varieties make it clear why the Chinese consider chrysanthemums the symbol of autumn.

To see even more spectacular mums than you will ever find in my garden, click here for my post about the fabulous KIKU exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden two years ago. To see some unusual and beautiful mums yourself be sure and visit the Lyman Plant House at Smith College for their Annual Chrysanthemum Show beginning on November 6.

A Wild Garden – Grrrrrrr!

There were a lot of young children at the Boston Flower Show, some clutching a parent’s hand, and some being wheeled about in stroller splendor. It might not always have been exciting, but the youngsters and their parents enjoyed this jungle garden with a grassy lion . . .

a giraffe made of flowers . . .  .

and a really scary crocodile right at the edge of the exhibit. No one wanted to touch – and a good thing too.