Campus & Community

Marathon Daffodils Honors the Boston Medical Community

Diane Valle ’02MBA knows the power in honoring hardships. An urban horticulturist, Valle is the founder of the Marathon Daffodils, which have been planted along the route of the Boston Marathon every year since the 2013 bombing, as an act of hope and recovery.

Clive Olson, Jr, Co-owner of Olson Greenhouse
Clive Olson, Jr, Co-owner of Olson Greenhouse

2020 was to be the seventh year of the Marathon Daffodils, but with the Marathon postponed until September due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Valle sees a city again in need of that symbol of hope.

“We are distributing thousands of Marathon Daffodils to the Boston area participating hospitals in a tribute to the medical community, and a gesture to Boston Strong,” Valle reported. It’s a fitting gesture for a project dedicated to the support of the community.

How the Marathon Daffodils started

Living in Charlestown, Valle said the city is “alive and vibrant” on Patriot’s Day weekend, showing the first signs of spring. On Marathon Monday in 2013, Valle received a call from her daughter, Danielle, that something bad had happened at the marathon. Uncertain what she would find, Valle drove to a meeting spot to pick up her daughter, who worked for then-Mayor Menino. She drove Danielle to City Hall. “I told her, you have to answer Mayor Menino’s hotline. People will be calling.” Valle left her daughter there and went home to shelter in place.

When the lockdown was lifted and businesses were reopened, Valle took the opportunity to drive the route of the marathon. She had never thought to drive the route before, but she was already thinking of a way to support the marathoners and the city as a whole.

As a horticulturist, Valle had done a “Daffodil Day” event on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway the day before the bombing. “Everyone loved the daffodils,” she said, “and I thought, maybe we can plant them along the marathon route?” She reached out to the Garden Club Federation for volunteers. Due to the generosity of donors and volunteers, 100,000 daffodils were planted in the fall after the bombing.

“There was no place to plant on the streets of Boston, so we got potted daffodils to line the finish line,” said Valle. Volunteers planted the flowers in boxes on Boylston Street. “Seven years later, these volunteers still work with us.”

Valle has applied what she learned at Simmons to manage this huge project. “I learned a lot of skills on how to organize in a big way,” she said. “Organizational development and project management skills were helpful, as well as marketing — all of it helped me leverage this into a larger scale. You can amplify your work if you have these tools from a business education... It’s important to understand who are the influencers you can partner with to make the project successful — partners are why this works, and people have been generous with money, expertise, passion, time, and effort.”

I am so proud of our city’s response. We responded by helping one another. People ran into the mayhem to help others. The survivors have been amazing examples of resilience.

Path of the Daff documentary

The 2014 Marathon was marked by heavy security — and flowers, everywhere. “It’s like a candlelit vigil in daylight,” Valle said. “A subliminal message that people care.”

She contacted a local greenhouse to source the potted daffodils and discovered that one of the partners had been seated next to the bombing site. “He was fully engaged and wanted to participate, and his brother was a documentarian in Los Angeles. He said, ‘We should do a documentary about this, it’s amazing.’”

The documentary team spent the next two years following the daffodil bulbs from Holland, across the Atlantic, to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

“It weaves in the story of the people who were injured, the people who helped the injured, and the people who raised money,” said Valle, “all of this created Path of the Daff. It’s a community-based effort to embrace Boston Strong, to remember the people who died and to pay reverence to our wonderful community. I am so proud of our city’s response. We responded by helping one another. People ran into the mayhem to help others. The survivors have been amazing examples of resilience.” And the effort is carried by the generous support of donors and volunteers.

“A runner told me, ‘I run with those daffodils.’ He trains every year, and once the daffodils show color, he knows he is ready for his marathon,” Valle said. “It has touched a lot of people in a very unconscious way. We’re happy we can do it.”

This year, the daffodils are already bringing cheer to the hospital workers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (as reported in the Boston Globe) and will bring more cheer to the other participating hospitals, in an effort to keep the tradition alive.

The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled for Patriots weekend and, as the documentary states, “Spring will come again,” with more Marathon Daffodils.

You May Also Like

Students working in the archives.

In Fall 2019, a group of 11 Simmons undergraduate students began researching the lost West End. Supported by a “Humanities Research for the Public Good” grant from the Council of Independent Colleges, the students created a series of exhibits, including one for the West End Museum, one on Simmons’ campus, and a digital exhibit.

Campus & Community