Cambridge Plant & Garden Club members plant sunflowers June 4. (Photo: Annette LaMond)

In late February, Cantabrigians watched in horror as the Russians invaded Ukraine. But what can ordinary people do beyond sending donations to humanitarian organizations and writing to political leaders? A letter to the editor of The New York Times on March 10 suggested a visible statement: “Plant seeds of peace and beauty.” Specifically, plant sunflowers – millions of sunflowers in flowerbeds, front lawns, municipal spaces and parks as a reminder of what is at stake.

The sunflower is the Ukrainian national flower – a flower that the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club embraced through a partnership with the Roxbury Sunflower Project and Prospect Hill Academy, which began as a pandemic project in 2020.

Several club members discussed how the letter’s advice could be put into action, and contacted the city’s landscape administrator, Ellen Coppinger, about a central public location for a mass planting of sunflowers. Ellen suggested the borders of Flagstaff Park – the land between Cambridge Common and Harvard Yard that includes the entrance to the Harvard bus tunnel –  where sunflowers would not only be highly visible, but also bring the park’s roadside grass strip to life.

The history of the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club goes back its forming by 20 women in January 1889. As the club’s membership grew, interests expanded from the founders’ own gardens to conservation and civic projects. An early club member, Isabella James de Gozzaldi, was a key fundraiser for the flagstaff (installed in 1913) that gave Flagstaff Park its name.

The plantings are on Flagstaff Park, between Cambridge Common and Harvard Yard. (Photo: Annette LaMond)

Within days, the club’s executive committee approved funds to buy 500 sunflower plugs the city committed to order the plugs, prepare planting beds and deploy the city’s watering truck through the summer.

Eight-inch sunflower seedlings grown by Nunan Florist & Greenhouse, a family business in Georgetown, arrived in Cambridge in early June. On the morning of June 4, 23 members and friends of the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club mobilized to plant the young sunflowers. They added hundreds of sunflower seeds around the plugs along with mulch provided by the Department of Public Works.

A sign on Flagstaff Park announces the plantings. (Photo: Annette LaMond)