Fitzpatrick Greenhouse at Berkshire Botanical Garden
The Bulb Show
February 24 — March 17
Daily, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Admission is free.
Spring will soon arrive, if only inside Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Fitzpatrick Conservatory for the start of the annual Bulb Show. The show, which is free and open to the public, runs from Feb. 24 through March 17. The Fitzpatrick Conservatory is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Bulb Show will feature thousands of bulbs in dozens of varieties, each one identified, including an evolving collection of traditional New England favorites such as narcissus, tulips and grape hyacinths together with hardy varieties new to the show.
“The Bulb Show is the Garden’s annual springtime gift to the community,” said Eric Ruquist, the Garden’s director of horticulture. “It’s an opportunity to see unique pairings of flowering bulbs and to get a unique glimpse of early spring.”
“Just entering the Fitzpatrick Conservatory, it’s a breath of fresh air, a breath of spring,” said Thaddeus Thompson, BBG’s executive director. “We love it. I love walking into this space, and I think everybody’s eager for a bit of spring right about now.”
Unsurprisingly, preparing the Bulb Show — creating the magic that hundreds of visitors enjoy during the Bulb Show’s few short weeks in late winter — is labor- and time-intensive. The preparation includes choosing and ordering seeds, sterilizing containers and making a written record of each bulb’s cold storage requirements, which can vary from seven to nine weeks for dwarf irises to 16-18 weeks for tulips, with most other bulbs falling somewhere between these extremes.
When the bulbs arrive — about five to six weeks after ordering— horticulture staff spend hours in the Lexan Greenhouse, across a small lawn from the Fitzpatrick, filling containers with potting mix and planting them. The process is precise: The bulbs must be planted at least a finger width apart — for some, 2-4 inches — at the proper depth for their size. Tiny ones get buried, while larger ones stick out a bit.
Each container is carefully labelled with the variety, date planted and anticipated pull date when it must come out of cold storage in order to bloom in time for the show. For each type of bulb, two rounds are created, each a week apart, to extend the show (a newly blooming pot will take the place of one on the wane).
Once all of the bulbs are potted, they are hauled to the basement cooler in the Center House, located on the other side of the Garden, across Route 102. There, a cooler is kept at 41-46 degrees. While in cold storage, the containers are checked weekly and kept moist.
When the hardy bulbs come out of cold storage, they are returned to the Lexan Greenhouse, where they can acclimate gradually before taking up residence in the warmer Fitzpatrick. Once in the warmth of the Lexan, it takes up to two weeks for the plants to “green up” and produce flowers, at which point the staff top-dresses the pots with moss, pine needles or nut shells before sending them off to the Fitzpatrick, where they are artfully displayed.
For displaying purposes, the staff experiments with size and color, tucking bulbs in around succulents, whose soft greens, browns and silvers provide visual contrast for the brightly hued bulbs. Stumps, branches and other natural props add variety and visual appeal to the displays.
The staff also keeps tabs on “performance” — what bulbs should be repeated the next year.
The now-retired BBG gardener Christine Caccamo says her favorite part of the show is coming into the Fitzpatrick Greenhouse early in the morning and inhaling the fresh fragrance of the bulbs. “All the flowers, the colors; it’s really satisfying to see it after all that work.”
Fellow gardener Duke Douillet agrees. “I’ve been in there countless times when visitors are there, and they get so much delight and comfort out of it. You’re doing something that other people enjoy, and it’s nice to see that your efforts are appreciated.”