After 9/11, a small band of gardeners started planting daffodils in public spaces as an act of healing and hope ... 18 years on, 18 million bulbs stand as a testament to their faith
October 1, 2019
By Shanti Nagel
I live and breathe all things gardening but there’s nothing I adore more than bulb planting season. As the plants die back and the cold creeps in, planting bulbs is a little prayer we place in the ground with our faith that spring will come again. We place these intentions, that the world will be resurrected, that the buds and flowers and warmth will return, into the very earth. As the great E.B White once said, planting bulbs is like “calmly plotting the resurrection”. So, when nearly all the tasks in the garden are completed for the season and we are contemplating the dark winter months, here is a sacred time for a last act of faith, a promise for the return of spring.
Lynden Miller of Public Garden Design, understood this and she understood that in trauma, as our city reeled in 2001 from 911, that people needed something to do with their bodies, with their souls and that planting bulbs, this simple quiet act of peace and resurrection, was a good enough place to start. With that she founded, along with New Yorkers For Parks (NY4P) and the NY Parks Department, the Daffodil Project. The Daffodil Project, over the past 18 years, has planted close to eight million daffodils throughout our city. That’s close to one flower for every New Yorker! These flowers stand as a loving, living memorial to the victims of 911. Brilliantly the project also inspires people to come together, to get involved with their green spaces, to put their hand in the soil and talk to their neighbors: all deep acts of healing. Every year over 1,200 civic groups, schools, community gardens, tenant groups and individuals participate. They gather around the city in October to plant these small assurances for the future in our parks, playgrounds, street plantings, public housing site; anywhere we as a whole community can see the flowers and enjoy them as a first signs of spring!
Here in Hell’s Kitchen we are proud to host the original site, the very first planting in 2001 happened here on the sloops of Dewitt Clinton Park. This site was selected because the families of 911 came to piers 94 along the West Side Highway to gather and await information about their loved ones. So just across the highway, here on the slopes of our local park, community members came together, a month after the attacks, to plant a living promise for the future.
Gabriella Cappo is one of the lovely humans who organize all this flower magic. On staff at NY4P for the past three years, this season Gabriella is the new director of the Daffodil Project. She loves how our parks and the daffodils often act as New Yorkers first entry point into active advocacy and involvement in their neighborhoods and communities. “I’ve met plenty of people who have just come to pick up bulbs and are now completely integrated into their communities helping to create ‘Friends of’ Groups for their parks or calling their council member to help solve community issue’. Flowers draw folks into being active stewards of the neighborhoods. She also loves how her work and the daffodils, no matter the weather, just makes people happy ‘Everyone is just happy and just so jazzed’. What a gift to our city!
I believe that today this small act of devotion, this planting of bulbs, has even deeper meaning. In today’s New York we are bombarded by climate reports and the stress and despair of our current global shift. Fear and uncertainty weigh heavy on our minds and our hearts. We may be struggling to imagine our future and working hard to envision the way forward, but we continue this small act in faith. Let us stop for a moment, mobilizing in our very bodies, with our family and neighbors and place our hands on the earth. Dig deep into the ground (at least 6”) and place one daffodil bulb snug into her new earthen home. Cover her back up with cool dirt and encourage her to sleep, to rest through the winter so that she can be ready in spring to show us the way into the future.
Join Gabriella, NY4P and community groups throughout the city this October for planting events. If you want to get more involved in Dewitt Clinton Park in particular, join myself and CHDC for an organizing meeting on Oct 23rd. For more information on these events contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Shanti Nagel is the Principle of Design Wild, a landscape design firm that works at the intersection of landscapes, humans and community well-being through the transformative power of plants. Design Wild create landscapes that bring the wild beauty of nature into the urban environment to soften the city and foster community health. Visit www.designwildny.com for more info