Storm Lends New Fervor to Daffodil-Planting Drive

By Lisa W. Foderaro New York Times

Participants in a daffodil planting at the DeWitt Clinton Houses in East Harlem this fall included, from left, Matthew Morris, 8; John Reddick; Tairaye Feder, 8; and Ariana Serrano, 8. Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Since September 11, more than five million daffodils have been planted as a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks. In the spring, the sunny blooms grace schoolyards and parks, sidewalks and community gardens.

Now, the group responsible for the profusion of yellow, New Yorkers for Parks, has a new reason to plant tens of thousands of additional bulbs. The devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought across much of the region has led to more than 40 deaths in New York City alone, as well as the kind of disruptions and misery not seen since the attacks.

“This harkens back to the original reason the project was started, which was to create a symbol of hope and recovery,” said Holly M. Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, which oversees the Daffodil Project, as the effort is named.

This fall, the organization decided to plant bulbs in places that may not ordinarily see enough beauty. For the first time, it formed partnerships with the New York City Housing Authority, which oversees thousands of units of public housing, and the Horticultural Society of New York, which has a longstanding program at the Rikers Island jail complex in Queens.

Last week, the group organized a planting at a public housing development in the Bronx, and this week it is joining the staff of the housing agency for plantings in Brooklyn and Queens; the goal is to plant more than 250,000 bulbs this fall, all across the city.

“The hurricane clearly has had such an impact on the daily lives and morale of the public housing residents, and we’re hoping this can be a reason to bring people out,” said Ms. Leicht, who before joining New Yorkers for Parks was a senior official in the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

This is the 12th season of plantings since the terrorist attacks, and the effort still commemorates the victims. But it has also developed into something else, becoming a citywide beautification campaign involving 40,000 volunteers to date — one of the biggest community service projects in the city’s history.

On a Thursday afternoon last month, at the DeWitt Clinton Houses in East Harlem, children became the latest troops in that green army, donning garden gloves and maneuvering trowels on the front lawn. One of them, Briana Hicks, 11, planted 30 bulbs in less than an hour on 110th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues. “I feel like we’re giving back,” she said. “I love flowers. They make the world more pretty.”

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Lynden B. Miller, a designer of public gardens who was then vice president of the New Yorkers for Parks board, was contacted by a Dutch businessman, Hans van Waardenburg, who owned a bulb company. He sent her a fax after the disaster to express his sympathy. She wrote back and asked if perhaps he and other Dutch bulb growers might be interested in donating daffodil bulbs for a citywide memorial. They were.

Around the same time, Adrian Benepe, until recently the city parks commissioner, had a similar idea: carpeting the city with daffodils in yellow — the color of remembrance. New Yorkers for Parks and the city thus formed a partnership, and the Daffodil Project was begun. In 2007, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg designated the daffodil the city’s official flower in recognition of the millions of daffodils that had been planted since September 11.

Today, the project no longer receives support from the Netherlands. But it has other generous sponsors, including Consolidated Edison, the City Council, the Greenacre Foundation and Ernst & Young. The expense per bulb is only $0.087 cents, but it adds up. The cost of the bulbs this fall, with shipping, was $23,652.

In addition to organizing plantings like the one at the DeWitt Clinton Houses, New Yorkers for Parks gives bulbs away. In late September, the group held six distributions at places like the Union Square Farmers Market, giving away 176,000 bulbs. On September 22, it handed out 8,250 free bulbs at the Seth Low Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn, its first distribution at a public housing development.

John B. Rhea, chairman of the Housing Authority, said the new focus on public housing fit in with the agency’s green initiatives, which include 664 gardens in five boroughs and an annual garden competition among housing complexes. But it also exposed children to the simple thrill of digging in soil.

“It’s the little things that we take for granted, like finding earthworms,” Mr. Rhea said at the DeWitt Clinton Houses during a celebration of the daffodil plantings. “When your life is concrete and asphalt, this is a chance to connect with nature.”

Melissa Mark-Viverito, a city councilwoman who represents East Harlem, was also on hand. “It’s wonderful in the sense that you’re bringing it to neighborhoods where people may not have the understanding of growing things and the experience of beautifying the space in which they live,” she said. “There’s a sense of ownership, too.”

New Yorkers for Parks had hoped to involve the inmates at Rikers Island, but the group was unable to get permission from the city, which cited concerns about security. And the planting there was more challenging logistically: Staff members with the Horticultural Society and New Yorkers for Parks were told to avoid wearing hunter green and orange, which inmates wear, so as not to confuse the guards.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 16, 2012, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: Storm Lends New Fervor To Daffodil-Planting Drive.

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