NORTHAMPTON -- The aggregation of scent hits you before you know it -- the heavy-handed sweetness of hyacinths, the warm-earth fragrance of tulips, the penetrating high notes of daffodils -- and you're not in the greenhouse yet.
The Spring Bulb Show at Smith College's Lyman Conservatory has helped bridge the gap between winter and spring for the better part of a century. In fact, it's such a long tradition that no one can pinpoint the year it began.
The horticulturists do fool a bit with Mother Nature to create the extravaganza of roughly 5,000 blooming bulbs. "In nature these bulbs have different seasons," says Madelaine Zadik, manager of education and outreach. "They've all been coaxed to bloom at the same time, so you get crocus right next to tulips."
The exhibit masses both the familiar (squill and grape hyacinths as well as narcissus, hyacinths , and tulips) and the more exotic. This year the show will include such South African bulbs as Cape cowslip and veltheimia, following the longstanding practice of including bulbs from around the world.
A concurrent exhibition, "The World in a Garden," features images from rare botanical books to chronicle botanists' continuing curiosity about plants from other regions and climates. Whatever the outside weather, the Lyman show reminds us that spring is coming. Really.
Lyman Conservatory Spring Bulb Show, 15 College Lane, Northampton, 413-585-2740, smith.edu/garden. March 3-18, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., also March 9 and 16 , 6-8 p.m. Suggested donation $1. Directions: Northampton is 102 miles or less than two hours from Boston. Take Interstate 90 (Mass. Pike) west to exit 4 (I-91 north). In 12 miles, take exit 18 (US 5) into Northampton center. In a mile, turn left on to Pleasant Street. In about a half mile, follow Route 9 (Elm Street). College Lane is the third left. PATRICIA HARRIS