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Downtown View: Daffodils for the Marathon

Memorials are tricky.

You’ve probably heard of the troubles with the proposed memorial for Eisenhower.

The most successful examples are, of course, Lincoln’s, Washington’s and the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Finding a name on that wall—hard to do when the 58,000 of them are not arranged alphabetically—brings that fallen soldier to life for loved ones.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial on the Greenway is another success. I was skeptical. Would it be like the starving Polish horsemen that for stood for years on the Common, the Irish famine memorial at the corner of School and Washington streets or the firemen’s memorial behind the State House?

Such sentimentalized caricatures make you laugh instead of honoring the tragedy or the heroes.

The Armenian Heritage Park turned out to be lovely and interesting. It evokes an experience beyond the catastrophe it commemorates. It contributes to the entire city, not just to a single group of people.

In the last few decades a new kind of memorial has become trendy. Spontaneously, teddy bears, flowers, notes and all kinds of flotsam and jetsam are tossed into a pile at the site of a tragedy. We have such a memorial at Copley Square in memory of the Marathon bombings.

It’s understandable that people want to do something when tragedies befall us. But the collection of objects at a site has become a cliché. It borders on entertainment. It shows signs of what one person I know calls the “grief industry.” It lacks a certain New England dignity. And what do you do with all that stuff?

That’s why a new response to the Marathon bombings has such appeal. Dreamed up by Charlestown resident Diane Valle, it doesn’t wallow or reek of cliché. Instead of memorializing, it offers celebration and splendor.

Diane is an intense woman with a long-time interest in horticulture. Among other achievements, she was a prime mover behind daffodils in the North End sections of the Greenway. She chaired Blooms, the scaled-down event that replaced the New England Flower Show when the Massachusetts Horticultural Society faced hard times.

Now she proposes a floral tribute to the Marathon. This fall she wants to plant at least 100,000 Dutchmaster daffodil bulbs from Hopkinton to Copley Square along the runners’ route. Daffodils in Massachusetts appear just at Marathon time. They come in yellow, a color of the Marathon. Next year’s runners will feel embraced by them. Next year’s spectators will enjoy beauty that will help dispell this year’s horrors. Daffodils come up year after year and spread, so they’ll continue to symbolize the humanity of the Marathon, not some creepy brothers.

Diane estimates it will cost about $1,000 a mile for the bulbs. She has already signed up helpers. Several horticulture organizations have agreed to lead the project in individual towns, with Kathy Macdonald of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and Heidi Kost Gross, past president of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts, taking on the route through Natick and Wellesley.

This effort won’t help the affected families the way the One Fund will. It won’t ease their sorrow. Victims will still need sustenance from friends and family for the rest of their lives. And there surely will be other observances next April that will honor the victims and those who responded to their needs.

But this project evokes a joy that other observances lack. It also builds on an effort to scatter daffodils throughout the commonwealth as Mayor Menino helped do last year in the city.

You can help with this observance. You can send a contribution with checks payable to “Marathon Daffodils” at 20 Mount Vernon Street, Charlestown, MA 02129.

You can volunteer to plant. Get in touch with your local garden club along the route if your community has one. Otherwise contact Diane at She will be organizing the planting.

This project is an affirmation—a bounty of beauty will celebrate the runners and all of us as we persevere.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

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