Fresh young plants are appearing on porches around town, bringing joy to people's lives and making them feel connected.
The Planting Love Project was launched a couple of weeks ago by some Pleasanton residents to let others know they are not alone. Each plant has an explanatory note, but it is not signed.
"The guessing game begins and the receiver is left wondering who the kind person was that took the time to make them feel special," said organizer Christina Gray, photographer, author and Realtor. "It changes the thought pattern even if briefly, away from the struggles in this pandemic, to who could have done this."
Gray said she and her family -- husband Lonnie and teenagers Ethan and Lauren -- came up with the idea.
"My uncle, Romano, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm, and it was really hard for our family to process," she explained. "We tried to figure out how we were going to handle our grief and came up with the Planting Love Project.
"2020 has been a hard year for many people so a project like this seemed like a good idea," she continued.
"The excitement we get from brightening someone else's day will hopefully be a bright spot in our own day, too. From death comes life. Always interesting how that works out."
The tag also encourages the recipient to pay it forward, stating, "As a community we are a source of collective strength. Together, let's see how far love can grow."
The Planting Love Project received seed money from the Make A Difference Foundation and purchased 50 bright pink cyclamen plants from Western Garden Nursery. The Gray family repotted them and added the tags, and the first delivery day -- the launch of the project -- was Dec. 29.
"We recruited 10 families who picked them up and are helping us plant love," Gray said. "This way our kindness network reaches as many people as possible."
Her mother-in-law, Jan Gray, delivered a plant to friends Heidi and Mike Haas in Livermore because they are coping with dire health challenges.
"I knew someone had come to my porch so I went outside and there it was," Heidi Haas recalled. "I read the little tag about the project, then went online to try to figure out who left it."
She said it was especially wonderful to receive right now.
"We are in the process of trying to find a living liver donor for my husband," she said.
His liver was already compromised, she explained, then rapid weight loss "finished it off." Neither she nor other loved ones are a match, so his brother Greg put up a website to help the search: www.aliverformike.com.
She explained that all expenses will be paid by Mike's insurance, but still she knows it is "not an easy ask."
"He's not able to work and right now doesn't have concentration or stamina," she said, so at this difficult time the plant means a lot to them. "It will have a special spot in my garden."
Nadia Salomon, who met Gray in a writing critique group, thought the Plant Love Project was "a brilliant idea" and was happy to help with deliveries.
"I had to literally find five people to deliver the plants to," Salomon said. "I close two I knew were going through stuff with the pandemic and I thought they could use a lift."
"The other three were just totally random homes," she added. "I chose homes that made me feel comfortable -- I looked for plants and kids' bikes. I let my gut guide me."
"It's such a cool thing," she said, noting that the project inspired her to mail seed packets to another friend in Sacramento.
Gray encourages anyone to join the Planting Love Project by buying plants and distributing them on their own. Tags to be printed are available at christinagray.com/planting-love-project, which also has a video of the launch.
"Hopefully this idea will take root (pun intended) not just locally but nationally -- and dare I say internationally," Gray said.
Her sister, Lisa Shukov, is getting the Planting Love Project started in London.
Meanwhile Gray is confident the local endeavor is helping others feel loved.
"The plant sitting on their counter will be a reminder of that thoughtfulness, helping reduce that feeling of isolation we all feel," Gray said. "My Uncle Romano would be so happy."