It takes more than a few green thumbs to bring more than 70,000 spring flowers to bloom, especially when each bulb must be placed and planted by hand.
The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has done just that for its Spring Bulb Display, which will have nearly seven acres filled by 70,000 flowers, said Chase Williams, the conservatory’s botanical gardens supervisor and 2011 graduate of Ohio State’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science.
The amount of bulbs is monumental for the conservatory, said Barb Arnold, a horticulturist at the conservatory who contributed to the display’s design, noting that a display of this proportion hasn’t been done since 1992. In recent years, about 10,000 bulbs have been shown at the conservatory in the spring; at the height of this year’s installation, 10,000 were planted in a single day.
“Every single bulb was hand-placed and hand-planted,” Arnold said said. “We didn’t use any machinery or drills, just troughs and hands. It’s exciting to see the bulb foliage coming up.”
The nature and scope of the display meant that planning had to begin almost a year in advance, Williams said. With the help of about 20 staff members and 150 volunteers, the preparation and planting was completed during September through November of last year.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Arnold, who has been involved in horticulture for 30 years. “But this is something I care about, something I don’t mind doing.”
The exhibition will feature 30 to 40 varieties of approximately 10 species of flowers, including crocuses, daffodils and the main attraction: tulips. Tulip bulbs don’t flower until years after they after they are planted and exhibition’s were imported from Holland, one of the world’s largest tulip producers, Williams said.
Williams selected the varieties for the exhibition, and said tulips are a good for large displays because of their iridescence.
“What was generally done with the designs is creating large groupings of color, to draw the eye from once space to another,” he said. “For example, in the sculpture garden, in the center of the bed, there is a big patch of purple that will meet your eye all the way back to the sculpture garden. And on either side of it, there are orange tulips on one side and yellow tulips on the other side.”
Although a small and seemingly delicate form of life, tulips have a rich history that spans across the globe. Cultivation became popular in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire’s height and had spread to Western Europe by the 1600s. The flower became especially vogue with the Dutch for its beauty, leading to one of the first recorded economic bubbles, in which tulip prices rose to significant heights before plummeting in 1637.
Once tulips from the conservatory’s Spring Bulb Display are no longer in bloom, people will be invited to dig them up and take them home to clear space for summer annuals, William said. About 5,000 non-tulip bulbs were naturalized, and are expected to double in population through colonization by next spring.
“Conservatories allow us to see plants up close and personal without having to travel all around the world,” said Joan Leonard, program manager for OSU’s greenhouse. “A Wikipedia page or a book would be the only ways to come in contact with many of these plants if it weren’t for these collections.”
The date of first bloom is dependent on weather, but is expected to be sometime in late April or early May. The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is located at 1777 E. Broad St., open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While people often worry about preserving trees, fields and forests from human construction, Arnold said incorporating nature into urban environments is important too.
“Green spaces are like cool spots within a much warmer city,” Arnold said. “They allow you to run, jump and roll down hills and relax your mind.”