Shirley Knopf with the HB Tree Society, works on beautifying the front of Hawes Elementary School on Monday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / August 31, 2011)

Shirley Knopf still walks regularly past the school where she taught for 14 years. But this summer, she was starting to have trouble recognizing the front of it.

Hawes Elementary School, where Knopf taught computer classes until 1997, had become overgrown with tall weeds that nearly obscured the camellia trees around the main entrance. So Knopf, the vice president of the Huntington Beach Tree Society, got out her shovel and went to work enlisting the community.

"You couldn't even see the plants," Knopf said. "It was just a weed fest."

When students return to Hawes on Tuesday, they will find the weeds gone, mulch embedded and dozens of new trees and bushes around campus. Knopf, Hawes PTA President Miriam Lazur and her husband Andy spent the last three weeks working in the hot sun with gloves and shovels to make the school presentable for the new year.

Along the way, they had a few allies. A nearby resident donated $1,000 to the Tree Society to help start the project. A local Eagle Scout spruced up a corner of the parking lot with a bay laurel tree and lantana bushes, and planted nine eucalyptus trees in neighboring Hawes Park.

The city contributed a dump truck full of mulch, and half a dozen UC Irvine students volunteered to weed flower beds.

In September, local Boy Scouts plan to help mulch the area in the parking lot and around portable classrooms, Knopf said.

The Tree Society, founded in 1998, claims on its website to have planted more than 5,000 trees. The nonprofit proved a valuable resource to the PTA, which has lacked gardening funds in recent years as state budget cuts forced it to support music programs, teacher supplies and other costs formerly footed by the district, Miriam Lazur said.

"Shirley and the Tree Society have been amazing," she said. "It was one of the things, when I started my term in June, that I knew needed to be addressed. We never could have gotten it done without them."