Human Flower Project

Aster Conflict

Weed, fall wonder, werewolf chaser, teacher?


From California, Amy Stewart writes a weblog called Dirt,  loaded with wit, pictures and un-hoity-toity gardening advice. Without a shred of snobbery (Amy, after all, has written a whole book about worms), she recently came clean, setting down a list of “Plants I Hate.”

Shocked at this plant-lover’s confessional, we did some botanical soul-searching of our own and had to admit that asters, blooming now all over Austin, have always struck us as ugly. Is it the grape bubble gum color? The littleness? The fuzz? Do we need a reason not to like asters?

Perhaps our dislike was egged on, too, by Jack Charest’s recent article for the NE Pennsylvania Times Leader about fall garden chores.

When he writes, “A pile of aster seeds looks like dust,” our throats tighten in disgust. “European peasants burned aster leaves as protection from evil spirits,” he adds, “and a paste made from the flowers was thought to be a cure for the bite of even a rabid dog.” What good ideas: setting an unattractive plant on fire on squashing it with a mortar in the name of public health, even “village security.”

Then, we received our come-uppance—this photograph, light years away from “paste” or “dust,” much less “hate.”


Aster from Heather Oetkin’s flower course, Norwood Elementary

The picture came from the website of an elementary school in Ames, Iowa. It was part of first grade teacher Heather Oetkin’s course on plants for first graders at Northwood Elementary School.

Check out the pictures, not just of plants, but of students studying plants, growing them, and presenting the books they’d written about them. (First graders, writing books!)

imageNorwood students present their books on flowers

Photo: Heather Oetkin

With a bit more digging, we’ve learned that Northwood School closed in May 2005. After a July hearing on the matter, the state department of education presented its report.

“The Ames Community School District has been struggling with declining enrollment since at least 1996.  The total school enrollment in the Ames district was 4,758 during the 1996-97 school year.  The enrollment had dropped to 4,425 during the 2000-01 school year… Most of the decline was at the elementary school level.

“The parents and children who attended Roosevelt and Northwood are understandably upset with the decision.  The schools are a central part of a child’s life.  Parents develop strong relationships with administrators, teachers, and other staff, particularly so when they send more than one child to the school.  The district’s decision to close schools will force children to attend a school outside their immediate neighborhood.  The district’s decision may cause some neighborhoods to lose a central part of their identify. It is very unfortunate that the economic realities associated with the district’s declining enrollment force this type of decision to be made.”

To dust. We wonder what has happened to those students, now in second grade? And what about Ms. Oetkin? Did she find another job teaching, passing on her insights into flowers to six and seven year old writers?

And what happened to that marvelous blue bloom? Asters look different now.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/04 at 07:32 AM


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