A “Guerrilla Gardener” Is on a Mission to Plant Hundreds of Tulips around Boston

She's handing out free bulbs on Boston Common this Saturday.

Photos courtesy of Amy Sterling

It all started with a few extra tulip bulbs and a simple idea. Amy Sterling, a Cambridge resident, had finished planting a few dozen of them in her front yard, but still had a whole bag of the quarter-size seeds. So it dawned on her: Why not share?

So Sterling this week brought a bag of about 50 bulbs, and a shovel, out to the streets of Inman Square and began plunking them in every underused grassy patch she could find, mainly the dirt that surrounds trees along the sidewalk. Tulips are typically among the the first flowers to sprout in early spring, so she figured maybe they might be a brightly-colored surprise for winter-weary neighbors come April. “Boston winters are totally insane,” she tells me. “People can be getting pretty grumpy. But in the spring this super colorful flower pops up, and in my eyes it’s a sign that spring is just on the horizon.”

When she posted a picture of her exploits online, people loved it, and her post quickly racked up hundreds of approving “upvotes.” It wasn’t until later that she learned what she’d done had a name, “guerrilla gardening,” and that Boston seems to be very much on board with city-dwellers putting their green thumbs to use, whether it’s officially sanctioned or not.

“It just went kind of crazy,” Sterling says. “People were messaging me, like, ‘This is awesome! I want to do this in my neighborhood!'”

Soon, plans were being made to meet up and start planting, and one commenter suggested maybe Home Depot might want to get involved by donating some bulbs. So Sterling gave the local hardware store a call, and she says they were happy to oblige. “They told me I could take as many as I could carry,” she says. She made off with bags filled with about 300 of them, she says, adding that, now, other Home Depot locations have offered to donate bags of bulbs to support her cause.

So Sterling has decided to take her efforts city-wide. She says she’s inviting anyone who’s interested in doing some “guerrilla gardening” of their own to meet her at outside the Park Street MBTA stop at Boston Common, where she’ll be passing out free bulbs. The idea, she says, is not to plant a bunch of tulips on the Common (the park’s overseers might not appreciate that), or to jam them into other peoples’ existing gardens (they might not like that either). Instead, she hopes people bring the bulbs back to their neighborhoods and plant them on medians, off sidewalks, or in swatches of mulch they feel could use some love. “The kinds of places where there is nothing, but there could be something,” she says.

Sterling will be there on Saturday fro 12-2 p.m., and says she’ll be drawing chalk tulips on the pavement to guide would-be gardeners’ paths. She’s also inviting Bostonians to bring a few extra bulbs to pass around. The more bulbs, the more randomly planted tulips we can expect to see sprouting around the city in a few months’ time.

“I don’t know if you’re actually allowed to do this,” she admits, but says she’s not concerned about ticking people off.  “It’s adding some beauty to the city, and as long as you’re planting it without disturbing existing gardens or doing anything bad to a public place, I don’t know why it would be a problem.”