Extra! Extra! Bulb Show Cancelled!
I visited the Lyman Plant House before the Covid-19-driven cancellation was announced. Now we will look forward to next year. In the meantime, you can still learn a bit about what it takes to put on the show. Keep Safe!
No matter the weather the Smith College Annual Bulb show sings out that Spring is here. For 100 years staff and students at Smith College have worked to present a blooming array of familiar daffodils, tulips, crocuses and more exotic plants from around the world.
I visited the Lyman Plant House on a sunny day last week and saw the bones of the show with golden orange trees in place. The corners were stuffed with silky pussy willows and cherry blossoms in bud. Ranks of tulips, not yet blooming, marched down one side of the room and some very mysterious plants were growing on the other side. The Chinese witch hazel with its twirly red flowers is stunning. The budded freesias promise delicious fragrance.
Jimmy Grogan, Conservatory Curator, met me and introduced me to Dan Babineau, and Steve Sojowski the current staff members who care for the Plant House all year. I was ready for a tour to learn what it takes to create the glorious Bulb Show.
My tour began with the Bunker, a controlled refrigerated room with ranks of shelves to hold and fool at least 5000 bulbs that it is winter. Potting up those bulbs is a lot of work, especially when you consider that different bulbs will need different soil mixtures.
Fortunately more than 30 horticulture students help pot up and store the bulbs in the Bunker in November. The temperature there is 42 degrees to begin. Temperatures are moderated as the winter wanes, and in January bulbs leave the Bunker. The bulbs then go to live in two cool rooms that are never open to the public. These rooms provide space and appropriate temperatures for the different tasks and plants that need care during the year.
It is the ever warming temperatures and increasing sunlight that make the bulbs begin to grow. And grow. Every room in the greenhouse has sensors to keep temperatures and humidity at the proper level. All this care and work brings the plants into bloom exactly in time for the opening of the Bulb Show on the first Saturday in March. The Show is open every day until the third Sunday.
While I was being shown the Bunker, Babineau, who has worked in the green house for six years now, said “I enjoy working in the greenhouse. We’re laid back but we keep everything clean and there is no downtime. I also like getting to learn new things.”
This is Sojowski’s 29th year of the 34 that he has been working in the Smith Gardens and greenhouse. “This will be the third show the two of us have worked on together. We keep learning more about the bulb seasons every year.”
Sojowski pointed to the potted narcissus and other blooming plants on the cement floor and explained that this is an additional way of keeping them cool.
Babineau and Sojowski are pretty cool about their work, but surrounded by beautiful and fragrant plants like the camellia corridor, it is clear there is no down time.
Neither are they the only people at work in the greenhouse. They showed me the classrooms for horticulture students, and the very sunny and green student greenhouse. I thought about the Long Green Line of Smith students who have been studying horticulture, experimenting and hybridizing plants in those rooms forbidden the public, for more than 100 years.
When Sojowski and Babineau said their good-byes and went back to work, I had time to wander through the rest of the greenhouse. I love to sit in the cool temperate house by the waterfall. It is a peaceful spot and while sitting there it is hard to remember that you are on a busy campus in a busy town.
There are other special rooms heated or cooled to the specific needs of ferns, palms, or succulents. There is a lot of beauty to take in.
There is more to the greenhouse than plants. The entryway provides exhibition space. This year the exhibit is The Art and Science of Dyeing: A Collaboration between the Botanic Garden of Smith College and Textile Artist Michelle Parrish. Long dyed panels of silk, wool and linen are hung to show off a range of dye colors created by using plants like madder, marigolds, woad, and even parts of shellfish. You are invited to touch. Gently.
Between the Rows March 7, 2020