Even Master Gardeners and black-thumbed plant destroyers agree: Thanks to Kalamazoo in Bloom, May is a bloomin' great time in Kalamazoo County. Each year in Portage, on the third Friday of May, the community dresses the city in its flowery best for the summer. In Kalamazoo, Bronson Park and other public places get dressed up in flowers and plants on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

With a nod to Kalamazoo's heritage and current status as one of the world's leaders in the bedding plant industry, Kalamazoo In Bloom coordinates this feat. Nearly 90,000 individual plants are used annually at a cost of about $35,000.

Monika Trahe is executive director of KIB. "We get help from a lot of volunteers, gardeners and people who 'adopt' a bed," she says. "Recently, we've had more young people helping us with annual planting. This year, with help from a Kalamazoo Community Foundation Good Neighbor Grant, we were able to turn it into a true learning experience."

According to Trahe, 260 students participated this past May, coming from Saint Augustine Cathedral School; the Gagie School; and Kalamazoo Central, Loy Norrix and Portage Central High Schools. "Volunteers and KIB board members went into classrooms and gave the students hands-on learning activities," she explains. "They brought examples of the flowers the students were going to be working with, then taught them how to break open the roots and property plant them."

The list of Kalamazoo and Portage community partners who support KIB's annual planting frenzy is long. In addition to the Community Foundation, the list includes Kalamazoo Valley Plant Growers Cooperative, WMU Landscape Services, the MSU Extension/Master Gardener Volunteer Program, the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo County, Napps Greenhouses, Tuesley's Greenhouses and Burger King.

"Having the students involved with this when they're young is so important," Trahe states. "It helps them have pride in the work they're doing and the community they live in. It also teaches them how to serve others and be part of something bigger than themselves. And they can see that their work lasts for more than one day –– that the flowers they planted continue to thrive over time.

"Of course," she continues, "it's important for us to recruit young people to help because most of our KIB gardeners and volunteers have been with us for many years. It's time for them to teach and advise the next generation so we can continue our mission. But what really matters is that when kids get involved in something like this, it might just continue throughout their lives."