Amy Sterling had tulips on the brain.
After returning from a recent trip to Amsterdam, where she served on a panel about artificial intelligence, the Cambridge resident went to a home improvement store and picked up a bag of bulbs so she could plant the spring-blooming flowers in her yard.
When she was finished gardening, Sterling and her husband, Will, realized they had about 50 bulbs left over. In a moment of spontaneity, they decided to bury them in random places around their neighborhood near Inman Square.
Now, Sterling wants others to do likewise and participate in this act of so-called “guerrilla gardening.” On Saturday, she plans to stand outside the MBTA’s Park Street station, bulbs in hand, encouraging residents to cache them in spots around Boston. Then, when winter fades and turns to spring, a splash of color will appear amid the brown grass, offering a reprieve from the chilly weather.
“It’s just a way to cheer people up,” Sterling said. “Get outside, it’s super nice out, go plant some stuff, and then sit back and relax — and when spring comes, you can enjoy the spoils.”
Sterling, a public speaker and executive director of EyeWire, a game that originated at an MIT lab and maps the brain’s activity, didn’t expect that her weekend bulb-planting would turn into a community-wide effort.
After burying bulbs beneath public trees in Cambridge Sunday, she posted a picture of herself, shovel in hand, to the Boston Reddit page, as a way to spread some happiness, she said.
“Planted 50 tulips around town today, hopefully not illegal. Stay tuned for a flowery spring!” the post read.
Others quickly latched on to the concept.
“People started coming out of the woodwork and asking me to organize something” bigger, she said. “I wasn’t sure if anyone would care or like it. I guess it was kind of a unique thing; I’ve never done anything like that before.”
Sterling started calling around to Home Depot stores in the area, asking if they’d be willing to donate to the cause. In the days since sharing her impromptu project with others online, Sterling has collected hundreds of additional bulbs, she said.
“There are a bunch of bags,” she said, laughing.
In a second post on Reddit this week, she shared another picture of herself, this time holding some bags of bulbs. The post shot to the top of the Reddit page, as people organized around her.
“It’s really cool that it all just built up from the Greater Boston community,” she said. “See? We’re not all Massholes.”
Sterling said she chose tulips because they’re “a signifier of the death throes of winter” and require very little maintenance. You dig a hole, plop the bulb in the ground, cover it up, and then just wait, she said.
“And in April it just pops up,” Sterling said. “They’re a reminder that spring is actually here, right around the corner, and beautiful Boston summer will be with us very soon.”
Sterling said she would stand outside Park Street Station between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday, giving away the bulbs to whomever is interested. She has also started a Google signup sheet for the “Boston Tulip Takeover,” where people can get a free bag of tulips to plant around their neighborhood.
“We need some actions to bring us together,” she said, noting that the news has been particularly hard to swallow lately. “And remind us that people are generally pretty nice and want to do well for their neighbors.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.