Lily Pham and Will Joseph plant flowers outside Christ the King Church in Milwaukie May 6 as part of a fifth grade project. Parish school staff say gardening teaches social justice, science and works of mercy, among other lessons. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Lily Pham and Will Joseph plant flowers outside Christ the King Church in Milwaukie May 6 as part of a fifth grade project. Parish school staff say gardening teaches social justice, science and works of mercy, among other lessons. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
During a mysterious break in what had been a day of windy downpours, enthusiastic fifth graders from Christ the King School here rushed out at their scheduled time May 6 to plant an array of flowers in front of the parish church.

This was the leafy denouement of weeks of weeding and applying mulch from the parish compost pile. The class had spent the morning praying for the rain to halt, and it did.

Many fifth graders sang as they planted. One fellow found a ripe potato while digging, causing general delight.

In addition to the flower beds, students plant and tend the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul community garden, which grows healthy food to help neighbors in need.

Lindy Hafemann, the veteran fifth grade teacher, asked her students and their parents to help with the flower bed for Teacher Appreciation Week.

“The garden projects have served multiple purposes in our Catholic education — social justice, corporal works of mercy, sustainability, science education, organic gardening, fun and community service,” Hafemann said.

She thinks fifth grade is a time of life when students are especially open to learning and possibilities. When she was in fifth grade, she went on a field trip to San Juan Baptista Mission in California and encountered the love of Jesus present in the Eucharist of the tabernacle of the old church. She was baptized Catholic not much later.

Hafemann’s Christ the King fifth graders have been learning about the beautiful efficiency and marvels of plants and how they are foundations of ecosystems that support all of life. Plants, the students know, emit the oxygen that allows for breathing, a nifty setup on God’s part.

Many of the flowers just planted are marigolds the fifth graders grew from seed over the winter in their classroom nursery. It took hours of watering and tender care to get the plants ready to move outdoors. The marigolds averted near disaster when a surprise April snowstorm hit the plants, which had been set out in the spring weather.

“We had to bring them back into our classroom’s ICU,” Hafemann explained.

Fifth-grader Lily Pham loves gardening, which she has done with her father for years. Lily has the sense that the beautiful flowers and abundant vegetables may be a form of evangelization, attracting new members to Christ the King.

“I am glad this will make Christ the King so much bigger,” she said. “Planting also helps make the world more beautiful.”

Sofia Hartner pointed out that planting also helps the environment and that some species can be used as medicine. Sofia also is a home gardener who helps the family grow tomatoes, strawberries and pumpkins among other tasty treats. Sofia said the family also has goats, meaning gardening can be tricky with hungry animals prone to vacuum up anything and everything, a curious but amusing part of God’s design.