Minneapolis Family Garden Provides Musical Respite During Harsh Summer
As her neighbors settled into lawn chairs and blankets before the night’s entertainments, Christina McHenry spoke of the often-staged spectacle of her family’s wildflowers, which were scattered like people around her front yard in southern Minneapolis.
“We saw monarch butterflies, bees and a hummingbird all there at once,” she said.
Metro Transit graphic designer, mortgage lender husband Stephen McHenry, and elementary school daughters Harriet and Eloise welcomed a wide variety of people alongside pollinators to their backyard last summer.
The McHenrys live two blocks south of W. Lake Street, near where a post office was set on fire and violent riots occurred following the George Floyd tragedy in May and June.
Just weeks after the chaos of this summer, the McHenrys invited singer / songwriter Dan Israel to perform a pass-the-hat concert on their front porch. To spread the word, they used the same GroupMe app thread they previously used to report fires, gun sightings, and parked cars with out-of-state plaques.
“We went over there and said to everyone, ‘Hey, how about some music to bring something positive to the neighborhood? »», Remembers Stéphane.
This impromptu concert morphed into a series of informal concerts held around every two weeks, each with the family’s shaded and stormy front yard as the backdrop – and with the chickens giggling in their equally lush backyard sometimes adding to the music.
McHenrys Garden was selected by a panel of judges as one of six winners of the Star Tribune’s annual Beautiful Gardens competition, chosen from over 380 reader nominations. In this most unusual year, the competition has changed a bit; we invited readers to come up with gardens that are beautiful in spirit and that contribute to the greater good.
During the show we attended in late August, singer Hope Nordquist – who typically performs in theatrical productions as well as in clubs – treated around 50 distant neighbors with a familiar mix of songs from Adele, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, “Hamilton” and “Moana” from Disney.
An older neighbor brought a kitchen chair to sit on while sipping a Leinenkugel and listening to music. The family next door watched from their porch.
Others showed up with their dogs and toddlers, many of whom playfully zigzagged around the tall wildflowers while weaving their way through the standard decorum of a calm audience.
The neighbor who literally hands the hat off to donations during shows – $ 5 to $ 20 in tips is very useful for musicians in these non-concert times – is Jon Lewis, used to being the executive director of the Metropolitan Symphony board. Orchestra.
The events in the McHenry’s flower-filled courtyard had a noticeable healing effect on Lewis and other residents, he said. “It’s good for everyone to bond with live music, instead of bonding with all of us terrified of the explosion in our neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, Sten Severson, works as a sound engineer at the Children’s Theater and provides small amplification equipment for garden performances.
“It’s a great case of different neighbors getting involved as we can,” Lewis added.
Chickens and Musicians
In her letter nominating the McHenry’s yard for the Beautiful Gardens competition, Christina’s mother, Kay Miller, wrote, “The family is working together to nurture this garden which is welcoming to all. The garden is small but it is such a joyful, welcoming and beautiful place. Neighbors love to be there. Beautiful flowers abound and organic vegetables are grown and shared among neighbors who might need them.
Christina and Stephen have also been heavily involved in the nearby community garden outside the Lyndale Community School, where their daughters attend.
There, the fourth graders help plant everything in the spring and then harvest everything in the fall as fifth graders – but not this year with the pandemic. Much of the produce was donated to food shelves instead.
“Especially for the kids in the city, it seems like a valuable lesson for them to get their hands dirty,” Christina said.
The McHenry family garden has grown steadily over the past decade to include a wide range of pollinating and ornamental plants including lavender, yarrow, fleece-flower, thistle, baptisia, lilies. , geraniums and columbine.
Edibles from their garden include herbs, Swiss chard, strawberries, peppers, watermelon, and even hops, which they have donated to Dangerous Man Brewing in the past for a special community beer. . This all adds up to the handful of eggs that appear in the chicken coop every day.
“They are very easy to care for,” said Harriet McHenry, 10, of their chickens, as she rounded up Guppy, one of six chickens she and Eloise, 7, named.
Their mom then downgraded “super easy” to “easier than having a dog, once you build the hen house.”
For the host family, the concerts in the yard became like another seed planted and cultivated in the garden.
With the summer riots long past but still many other challenges generated by 2020 to endure, the family kept the concerts in the yard until the end of October, with mainstays of the music scene like Jeremy Messersmith and Connie Evingson among the interpreters. There is at least one more series – the 11th in the series! – still under construction.
“After the first two, it was like, ‘Well I guess we’ve got a streak on our hands,’” Stephen said. “Why stop? “
Christina concluded: “Especially with [the pandemic] and everyone stuck at home, it seems worth it to add some beauty and a sense of community around your neighborhood and home.