April 3, 2021
By Kerry J. Bryne
The yellow ribbon of some 8 million daffodils wrapping itself around New York City this week, born as a gift of Dutch flower merchants in the aftermath of 9/11, has turned a day of horror into a monumental symbol of rebirth that sweeps across all five boroughs each spring.
The Daffodil Project, now in its 20th year, is a citywide effort organized by New Yorkers for Parks that “I believe is now the largest living memorial anywhere in the world,” said Brooklyn Botanic Garden president and former city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
“It’s an opportunity to help our community while teaching the younger generation who didn’t experience 9/11 that it’s not to be forgotten,” said Nilka Martell, founder of Loving the Bronx.
Her grassroots organization, like scores of others around the city, plant daffodil bulbs in public spaces each fall, including Chief Dennis Devlin Park in the Bronx, named for a FDNY battalion chief killed in the World Trade Center attack.
The seeds for the Daffodil Project were planted on Sept. 12, 2001 via fax exchange between New York City garden designer Lynden Miller and Dutch flower broker Hans van Waardenburg.
“I have an idea that we could plant bulbs all over the city in memory of this in all the parks,” Miller wrote by hand, while lamenting the destruction that befell New York the day before. “Do you think that the Dutch bulb growers would donate any?”
One million daffodil bulbs, gifted by Dutch flower growers to the city their forefathers founded in 1624, “arrived on the very first ship into New York Harbor” a few weeks later, Miller told the Post.
Thousands of volunteers came out in the fall of 2001 to plant the bulbs. They have returned each year since, planting up to 500,000 daffodils annually, with the exception of last year because of Covid restrictions.
The bulbs once planted bloom early each spring and naturally reproduce, meaning “an unknown number” of daffodils have been added to the city landscape, said Emily Walker of New Yorkers for Parks. Mayor Bloomberg declared the daffodil the official flower of New York City in 2007.
A total of about 100,000 volunteers have planted 7.5 million bulbs since 2001 in hundreds of city parks, schools, housing developments and sidewalk tree plots, providing a nearly unavoidable splash of vibrant yellow in almost corner of the city. The goal is to plant one daffodil for all 8.3 million residents of New York, said Walker.
Efforts to rebound from a year of pandemic add poignancy to the 2021 daffodil bloom. “New Yorkers need their public spaces more than ever,” said Miller.
“There is almost this sacred ritual of burying your hands in the earth to plant the bulbs,” said Benepe, who lost his mother eight days before the attacks and then two close friends in the World Trade Center. “I think for many of us that first year it was like burying the lost victims of 9/11, then a few months later these daffodils came up to remind all of us of those people forever.”