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Local gardeners put spring in their steps at annual 5K

Gardeners and Runners Participate in Second Annual Daffodil Dash

Sarah Barrows, Elaine Alexander, and Joyce Putnam prepare for Garden Club 5K/Photo by Gabriella Baiano for Ithaca Week

Local gardening enthusiasts celebrated spring earlier this month with a fundraiser designed to get everyone outside– and moving. The second annual Daffodil Dash was held to raise money for the Ithaca Garden Club’s public beautification efforts.

“There is nothing that is more cheerful in spring in Ithaca than a bunch of daffodils flowering. They’re very important for human health and getting people outside,” said William Miller, professor of Horticulture at Cornell University.

Cornell students Chris Perez and Gabriella Medina participate in the daffodil dash 5K/Photo by Gabriella Baiano for Ithaca Week

Despite spring showers, runners of all ages raced through 130,000 daffodils planted by the Garden Club throughout Ithaca’s Cass Park. For Cornell students Chris Perez and Gabriella Medina, it was their first time participating in the daffodil dash. Although faced with wet conditions, the couple expressed their excitement for racing in next year’s 5K again.

The daffodil dash is one of many community events hosted by the club to raise funds for public beautification initiatives across Ithaca.

“We’ve had a number of different things, but this was the first time we’ve done a major event which includes a lot of people in the community, all ages and all stages,” said Elaine Alexander, president of the Ithaca Garden Club.

The Ithaca Garden Club

The Ithaca Garden Club, founded in 1922, is one of the longest running clubs of its kind in New York. Alexander said she has always had a passion for the civic beautification missions of garden clubs and has gained both friendship and gardening knowledge from local club projects.

Daffodil trail planted by the Ithaca Garden Club/Photo by Gabriella Baiano for Ithaca Week

“With the public projects that we did, I realized that not everybody has the funds or the access to do this sort of beautification,” Alexander said.

The Ithaca Garden Club’s previous projects include a partnership with Healthy Food for All, an organization that provides community supported agriculture shares for low-income families. The two organizations worked together to raise funds to provide shares for women with children under age 5 living below the poverty line.

“At first, those of us who lived in Ithaca can’t believe that there are as many women as there are who live with children under the poverty line, so this was really a great project,” Alexander said.

According to Alexander, the club was a founding member of the Community Federation of Women’s Organizations that previously owned the Women’s Community building downtown. Today, the downtown building consists of subsidized housing.

“When they sold the space, they took the funds for that and formed a foundation. Because the garden club was a legacy member, we still participate in the awarding of grants to programs that benefit women and children,” Alexander said.

The club has created gardens at various public spaces throughout Ithaca including the Cayuga Medical Center, Hospicare, the Ithaca Children’s Garden, and the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. In addition to landscaping projects, the club takes on annual interior decoration tasks at the Cayuga Medical Center. Alexander said her club put together large wreaths with bells for last year’s décor theme, “let the holiday spirit ring.”

The Daffodil Dash

Alexander said Professor Miller helped inspire the race through the daffodils with his “amazing bulb planter.” Since 1998, flower bulb research at Cornell has been supported by the Netherlands flower bulb export industry.

Ithaca Garden Club members use planting machine/Courtesy of William Miller

“In 2017 they sent to us a planter that hooks onto a tractor…capable of lifting up a strip of grass about two to three inches deep, dropping bulbs onto the ground, and covering those bulbs up with grass,” Miller said.

His planting machine has helped the garden club plant roughly half a million tulips and other bulbs downtown, Miller added.

Shortly after the club’s first planting, the nonprofit became a staple organization benefiting the Ithaca community, helping Ithacans find joy through long Ithaca winters and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There were a couple of spots downtown and all of a sudden there were these strips of crazy color and flowering daffodils. People would walk by and see them, and it was very clear that people really enjoyed this,” Miller said.

“Children love to see them, people are walking their dogs and kids are riding their bikes on the trails, and it’s great,” he added.

Donations from this year’s daffodil dash contribute to the beautification of Ithaca and the club’s current project to grow daffodils, starting at the waterfront trail, expanding to public parks and spaces throughout Ithaca.

Melanie Weymer volunteers at the daffodil dash/Photo by Gabriella Baiano for Ithaca Week

“We had a very generous donation from the Triad Foundation, both last year and this year, that covered the costs of the event so that any money we raised went directly towards the purchase of bulbs,” Alexander said.

Melanie Weymer, volunteer and past president of the Ithaca Garden Club, shared her admiration for the organizers and fellow volunteers who helped host a successful second annual daffodil dash. “Some of us are gardeners, some of us are not, but we’re absolutely drawn to this project,” Weymer said.

Head to the Ithaca Garden Club’s website for more information on current projects and club membership.



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