Next to the bees, the most active attendant of the Kenwood School vegetable and stone poem rain garden is Angie Erdrich.
A pediatrician by trade, Angie is skilled at both problem solving and care giving. And she has an abiding affinity for tree frogs.
On a quiet residential street in the Kenwood Neighborhood, the public space surrounding the garden erupts with kids, neighbors and parents hurrying by multiple times each day. A popular bookstore, art gallery and studio, a restaurant, and a veterinarian’s office front the urban schoolyard across 22nd Street.
For such a visible and high foot-traffic area, the initial problem with the site was the concrete and the compacted soil, backfilled with years’ old construction debris. The space was barren. The hard surfaces sped run-off from the building and adjacent asphalt playground into the sewer system and Lake of the Isles just 2 blocks away. Angie, a Kenwood parent, saw an opportunity to beautify the spot, manage storm water, and teach students and neighbors the joy of growing something - together.
The resultant garden welcomes humans to the school and pollinators to a place that was absent greenery, let alone anything blooming.
First came the vegetables, with tomatoes scaling a cement knee wall in a narrow earthen patch along the sidewalk. Next came fruit trees. A limestone path with creeping herbs now meanders beside the brick wall of the school auditorium. A fairy garden appeared (a kid favorite), along with a metal archway for vining plants (cucumbers, beans) and lots of marigolds, cosmos and other flowers easy to grow by seed.
“I had just moved to Minneapolis from South Dakota,” Angie offers, “and I was used to doing everything on the cheap.” At first, Angie relied on donations of plants, stepping-stones, and mulch. She solicited financial contributions from neighbors and sought a sculptor to create a piece of public art. She negotiated with school officials and a local watershed nonprofit to secure stewardship permission and to connect her efforts to a larger mission of water quality. She signed up volunteers for weeding, watering, and harvesting. School kids hand-pollinate the apples in spring, and harvest the fruit in fall.
By all accounts, the garden is a blooming, produce-bearing success.
In 2015, 5 years into the project, 85 Kenwood School 5th graders installed a native plant rain garden. Companion to the vegetable garden, the new space captures rainwater, provides habitat and blooms to sustain local pollinators, and invites kids to jump from stone to stone while reading a poem created for the site by writer Louise Erdrich (Angie’s sister). Artfully rendered, donated signage teaches visitors about local native bees and the environmental benefits of watershed management.
“I didn’t anticipate how kids would play so much on the stones,” Angie demures. “At first I was worried and apologetic, and I asked the teachers if they were having problems with the kids being in the garden during bus time. The teachers are completely for it because the kids get to be kids and just play.”
Angie’s legacy? Sustainable design, public art, lessons on stewardship and building community. Deep roots.
Oh, and don't forget: despite your hurry, take a moment to see what this garden offers. Stand still. Take it all in.
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Photo Credits: Kenwood Stone Poem Rain Garden website, Angie Erdrich, Tracy Nordstrom