When 10-year-old Jennifer Hunter runs her fingers through the thin, twig-like leaves of the California sagebrush that she helped plant, she thinks about perfume and the Wild West.
"Cowboys used this to try and get into saloons and bars," she explains, inhaling the musky scent the plant leaves on her fingers. "They acted rich so they could go in and attract girls."
When she looks over the soft orange petals of California poppies that are growing with her help, Jennifer sees a bed. "At night, [the petals] close up, and in the day they open up again," she says. "It's like a bed to keep the flower warm."
Jennifer is one of 104 Madrona Elementary fifth-grade students who turned a weedy hillside behind the school into a living lesson in botany, geometry, history and politics. They celebrated their work Monday in a ceremony marked by song, speeches and more song, handing off their yearlong project to next year's fifth-graders.
Like the garden project, the handing-over ceremony was a study in teamwork, with nearly a dozen students giving short presentations about the bumpy road to making the garden a reality.
Against the backdrop of blooming poppies and purple heliotrope, the fifth-graders talked about lobbying for $600 in Madrona PTA seed money, measuring slopes to prevent erosion and finally planting the seeds and caring for the growing plants.
The garden, called "Our Native Garden of the Fifth Kind" in recognition of the fifth-graders who created it, is a mix of native plants and flowers including poppies, buckwheat, blazing stars and purple sage.
Bruce Douglass, a self-described "Mr. Mom" and soil specialist, provided much of the support and know-how for the project, but the students did all the work.
Another fifth-grader, 11-year-old Ryan Hougardy, the project's official archivist, said turning the soil was the hardest part. "If you step in it, you have to start all over again," he said as he flipped through photos of the project.
One picture showed a student resting on his back in the dirt, feet propped on a wagon. "He got tired," Ryan said.