Holden Forests & Gardens’ Operation Tulip brings smiles and tears

Tulips (Tulipa) form a genus of spring-blooming perennial herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes. The flowers are usually large and brightly colored shades of red, pink, yellow, or white. Tulips are one of the world’s most popular flowers and a welcome sign of spring.

Each October, the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s horticulture staff plants tens of thousands of tulips in different designs and color combinations. This year, the terrace pool was to be an alternating design of pinks and yellows complimented by other colors, textures, and blooms in the pots and side beds.

“It was going to be gorgeous sight that greeted our spring visitors as they entered the garden space. When we learned we had to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – thinking about what to do with all of the gorgeous tulips was quickly on the minds of our horticulturists,” said Caroline Tait, Vice President of Horticulture and Collections.

“A number of us had the idea at the same time. We thought, ‘let’s repurpose the tulips to benefit the community somehow,’” said Brian Gibbons, Director of the Gardens and Glasshouse. Horticulturist Margeaux Apple had just emailed Caroline saying “there must be something special we can do.” The staff’s brainstorming led to CEO Jill Koski, who immediately contacted members of HF&G’s board of directors. Before they knew it, potted tulips were going to be on their way to the caregivers at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

It was all happening quickly, and everyone was excited.

Over the course of about 10 days and a half dozen deliveries and pick-ups later, thousands of tulips in 500 pots made their way to local hospitals and also to the Hospice of the Western Reserve, Ronald McDonald House Cleveland and the YWCA.

The nonprofits largely incorporated them into their spring landscaping to help brighten the days for their patients or visitors. Cleveland Clinic thanked caregivers. The gratitude has been overwhelming. Lu Little, a gardener with the Hospice of the Western Reserve said she’s witnessed tears at the sight of all of the tulips and daffodils from people visiting loved ones. She named the effort “Operation Tulip.” Another grateful recipient sent a thank you email that said simply “Oh happy day!”

While the HF&G team may have made people smile and tear up with these deliveries, we can tell you that it’s Northeast Ohio community members who are being resilient in the face of the unknown that cause us to stop and consider what we might do to help. And we can hardly wait to welcome everyone back to the arboretum and gardens – when it’s deemed safe –  where there will be countless flowers waiting to lift more spirits.