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.
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.
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.
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