Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Daffodil Project 9/11 Memorial: 
One Dutchman's Gift of Hope, 
Renewal, and Beauty 

This year Mother Nature played the biggest Halloween trick of all. The calendar said autumn. The weather screamed winter. A freak storm dumped 30 inches of snow on parts of North Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire two days before Halloween. New York City lucked out. Only 2.9 inches of snow fell on Central Park, the first time since1869 the city had more than an inch in October and thousands of residents lost power. The storm damaged almost 1000 trees in Central Park. 

Amid the snow, slush and downed trees spring has indeed arrived. Thanks to city’s “The Daffodil Project” the weary spirits of thousands of volunteers from several hundred-community groups have perked up some.

Founded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorists attacks, the project is an ongoing memorial honoring the lives of those who died and adds beauty and color to the city, often where there is very little. Four million daffodils bloom in parks, community gardens, along highways and in front of schools, and libraries each spring.

The project began immediately following 9/11 with Hans van Waardenburg of B&K Fowerbulbs, a major tulip bulb supplier in Holland, his way of lending emotional support.

Devastated by what he saw on television he contacted his friend Lynden B. Miller, a public garden designer in New York City and director of The Conservatory Garden in Central Park. He wanted the help and wanted to know what could he do. She asked if he had any extra bulbs. He did. He shipped 500,000 right away. In addition he got the city of Rotterdam and its Port Authority to donate 500,000 daffodils and 90,000 yellow tulip bulbs. That year the city received 1.5 million bulbs from local and other international donors.

Weeks after 9/11 the parks department and the Partnership for Parks organized a planting day. Ten thousand volunteers planted 250,000 bulbs that first day in late October.

Why Daffodils? Miller and van Waardenburg choose daffodils instead of tulips, a symbol of Holland, because squirrels eat tulips. Daffodils are recurring flowers and their vibrant colors embrace renewal and spring. They are well suited for the tough city landscape. They are resilient. They split off to form new flowers and require minimal care. And they are pollution resistant, a key point for congested city streets.

The Daffodil Project impacts all five boroughs. Groups from McCarren Park in Greenpoint Brooklyn, to Curtis High School on Staten Island, the Soundview Community Center in the Bronx, the Long Island City Community Garden in Queens, and the tree pits of the West 55th Block Association in Manhattan have all taken advantage of this free program.

A few years after van Waardenburg sent his first shipment of bulbs, Joseph Temeczko, a Polish immigrant and Minnesotan handyman, followed with his own generous gift. He willed his entire estate of $1.4 million to New York City. The city spruced up Columbus Park in Chinatown and other public spaces in lower Manhattan and set aside $300,000 for the Daffodil  Project. Mr. Temeczko, a Nazi prisoner of war survivor, died a month after 9/ll while tending his garden.

Van Waardenburg continues to donate bulbs – almost four million to date – shipped by Con Edison. Other corporate sponsors have stepped in to help.

This year New Yorkers for Parks distributed bulbs on October 16 at Union Square Park. From mid-October to mid-November volunteers will plop bulbs – 250 allotted to each group - into their gardens and community spaces and look forward to April or May when they bloom and the daffodils blanket the city.

In 2007 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named the daffodil the city’s official flower.
For more information go to: New Yorker For Parks