Meet the woman who planted 5,000 flowers in her Castle Hill neighborhood through a city program with ties to 9/11

Daffodils and tulips radiate vivid colors throughout the Castle Hill neighborhood thanks to one woman’s efforts to help beautify the community.
Photo Ameena Walker

Jaleesa Franco has been affectionately dubbed the “flower girl” after single-handedly planting thousands of daffodils and tulips

Jaleesa Franco, a Castle Hill native, has planted more than 5,000 flowers in her neighborhood thanks to The Daffodil Project. Photo Ameena Walker

Since October 2021, Castle Hill native Jaleesa Franco has planted more than 5,000 flowers throughout her neighborhood as a “labor of love” for her community. Her ambitious solo task earned her the affectionate title of “the flower girl” among Castle Hill residents, who always excitedly inquire about whether she has plans to plant more flowers.

Unexpectedly finding herself having more free time, Franco considered ways in which she could beautify her neighborhood while doing something she enjoyed. “The pandemic happened and I lost my landscaping job,” she explains. “I was wondering what I could do with all of my spare time, so I just went around and started planting everywhere. I just wanted to make the neighborhood look good.” 

After years of unsuccessfully applying to the city’s popular nonprofit program The Daffodil Project — an initiative launched by New Yorkers for Parks more than 20 years ago, which honors the memories of those who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks by giving away 500,000 daffodil bulbs annually to city residents and groups to be planted in public spaces — Franco finally received 1,700 bulbs.

She convinced her neighbor to apply as well and obtained another 1,000 daffodils. With 2,700 bulbs on hand, Franco, an avid gardener and former graffiti artist, loaded up a small push cart with her supplies and began sowing seeds on more than a dozen blocks spanning from Castle Hill Avenue to Lacombe Avenue, also planting on smaller side blocks and in front of schools, local businesses and churches in between. 

New York City gives away 500,000 daffodil bulbs annually to be planted in public spaces as a means to remember those lost in 9/11. Franco also started planting tulips in her neighborhood after requests from area residents. Photo Ameena Walker

“During the process, a lot of residents asked me what type of flowers I was planting and many hadn’t heard of a daffodil but a lot requested that I plant tulips,” says Franco.

To honor the community’s wishes, Franco started a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to purchase tulip bulbs. The donations allowed her to purchase 2,300 tulips that she also single-handedly planted throughout Castle Hill, documenting the process on TikTok for her nearly 7,000 followers. With warmer weather here, the evidence of her hard work is obvious as vibrant yellow and red flowers populate tree pits throughout the neighborhood.

Recently, Franco landed a job with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, but she still plans to plant additional flowers throughout the neighborhood in her spare time.

“I want everyone in Castle Hill to be able to see something beautiful in their neighborhood,” she says. “We have a lot of beautiful things that are easy to miss, but it’s hard to miss beautiful flowers everywhere.”

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This story was updated at 10 a.m. on June 29.