I had to ask again today. "What do you call plants that come up year after year?" The answer is, of course, perennials. You'd think I'd know that by now and on some days I do. But on other days I'm sure that they are called "annuals". Something that happens annually happens every year. But, as Marie explains in about.com's gardening section, "A true annual is a plant that completes its life cycle in one year." So an annual flower does not flower every year. It flowers once and dies and you need to replant it the following year.
Kim and I spent part of this morning up at Boulevard school watching Elena's first grade class put the finishing touches on her garden. One of the mom's said, looking at the garden, that it was difficult to picture that it had not always been there.
The landscaper had followed the flow of the surrounding sidewalks and created a perfectly shaped garden with a dogwood in the middle and various bushes and plants along the side that tied the garden to nearby trees and other garden areas. It wasn't easy to picture this section of the lawn covered only in the same grass that covered the lawn around it.
Several moms have shown up to help with the planting. One has been kind enough to look all over town for a nice assortment of pansies. She called yesterday to make sure it was ok that she had supplemented the pansies with another variety because there weren't enough good looking pansies. Her choice was perfect.
The first group of six children come down from Elena's first grade class. Maggie has been allowed to take time away from her fourth grade class to come help. This first group of first graders are all boys. They walk right for the garden and cut across it. We motion them to walk around and, because we're standing right there, they do. By this afternoon they'll be cutting across the garden again.
"What's that smell?" asks one of the first graders, wrinkling up his nose. It was the great outdoors. Or, as one mother more correctly answered, it was fresh fertilizer. The PTO had paid for this beautiful memorial for Elena. A garden on the spot where the school year begins and ends. This is where parents bring their kids on the first day of school to meet their teachers. This is where the kindergarten teachers greet their graduates and lead them over to their first grade teacher.
Maggie and the boys each took a spoon and a plant and dug their own holes. Dirt flew everywhere. The moms got the boys settled down and they dug down into the clay. We helped them take the plants from the pots and they placed the flowers in the ground and pushed dirt all around them to hold them in place. Before they left, one of the moms gave them a second flower that had been carefully bundled up and labeled. They could take it home and plant it. This beautiful yellow memory of Elena going home with each of the children she had been in class with.
The boys headed back to their classroom and were soon replaced with six girls accompanied by their teacher Mrs. Chung. The girls got to work selecting their plants and digging their holes. One of the mom found a slug which she showed to each of the girls. One of the girls looked very seriously at me and advised that I should never vomit up slugs like what happened in the Harry Potter movie. You don't often get such practical advice.
I looked past Mrs. Chung to the little bench outside of the classroom. When Maggie was in first grade, that used to be her classroom. She had had Mrs. Chung as her teacher as well. Elena and I would walk up to school to pick Maggie up. We'd get there early and sit on the bench and talk to each other and wait for the bell to ring.
Mrs. Chung remembered that. But she also remembered Elena standing up on the bench so she could see in the room and wave. She remembered me holding Elena up at the window so that Elena could wave to her and to Maggie. I remember Mrs. Eagleton stopping to talk to us – mainly to Elena – on her way to bus duty long before we really knew who she was. I remember the big fourth graders with their orange safety patrol vests leaving school a bit early so they could be in position to caution the other children not to run. We sat each day and watched the buses line up. Elena loved coming to pick up her older sister. She especially loved Fridays when Maggie could pick a prize from the prize box. Elena always wanted to know what Maggie had chosen.
The girls finish planting their flowers without tossing dirt all around them. Kim and I continue to be amazed at how different boys and girls are from such an early age. They carefully hold their "take home" flower and line up to get their pictures taken. Gym class has started and there are fourth graders jogging by us. The third shift of first graders plants their flowers and the one remaining child runs downstairs and outside to join us and plant his flower.
A different group of fourth graders jog by. It's Maggie's class. She joins them in their run around the school. She has planted her plant in Elena's garden and taken pictures of the first graders who helped out.
The flowers, the annuals, will complete their life cycle by year's end. The tree and the bushes and the perennials will remain to weather the winter and to reassert themselves in the spring. Annuals. Because we will return to plant something here each year. Spring becomes a kind of a nice reminder to tend to Elena's garden.