Drive down Lexington Parkway in St. Paul’s Como neighborhood, and Quentin Nguyen’s yard will definitely catch your eye. There’s a lot going on at this small, high-visibility corner lot — a reflection of Nguyen’s boundless energy and ever-flowing spigot of ideas.
His front yard has a Hobbit-y look — covered with velvety chartreuse mounds of Scotch moss, punctuated by large animal statues and signs supporting his current cause.
“It’s green, healthy and I don’t have to mow it,” he said. Better yet, the moss flowers into October and “honeybees love it.”
He also has a Bee Nice Boulevard garden, where he replaced the lawn with a swath of purple liatris, to nurture monarch butterflies and other pollinators. That garden is studded with tiny American flags, which mark the location of each chrysalis he finds. Across the sidewalk is a colorful pup tent that he keeps filled with live monarch caterpillars. “Children come over to take a close-up look,” Nguyen said.
He also has a meditation garden, a fairy house cut into a small hill, and a hanging garden — a suspended network of 120 green plastic pop bottles cut into vessels for growing herbs and small salad greens. That garden also camouflages his lattice fence, which he considers ugly.
Nguyen, 24, a VIP host at Mystic Lake Casino, was born in Vietnam and came to St. Paul with his parents as a preteen. He’s enthusiastic about this country (“I love America so much,” he said) and gardening.
He wasn’t a gardener until he bought his house four years ago. Not long afterward, he learned about monarchs and other pollinators being threatened by loss of habitat. That gave him a mission statement for his landscape.
“I use my yard as an attraction,” he said. “I want to use my house to spread the message for green living and pollinators. I have so many ideas.”
Sometimes Nguyen’s ideas overflow the boundaries of his own lot lines. Last year, for example, he planted scarlet runner beans and cardinal flowers, to attract hummingbirds, on a barren patch of earth facing the alley.
“It’s my neighbor’s land,” he said. “I asked, ‘Can I garden? I can turn the alley to look nice.’ ”
Now Nguyen is undertaking his most ambitious project so far — laying the groundwork to create a five-block continuous boulevard garden. He plans to plant the boulevards with native flowers and grasses, carefully selected not to exceed 18 inches in height, to comply with city regulations and not cause visibility issues for motorists.
His mission is twofold. He wants to create more habitat for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. He also wants to “beautify the gateway to Como Park,” encouraging motorists to slow down and appreciate the flowers.
To that end, Nguyen has launched the Lexington Boulevard Beautification Project. He’s knocking on doors to get neighbors on board, and raising funds via Facebook to rent a sod cutter and buy plants and seeds.
So far, more than half of the 20-plus property owners have agreed to take part, he said.
Mike Ireland, a member of St. Paul’s District 10 Como Community Council and chairman of its environmental committee, is a big supporter.
“I think his idea is absolutely fantastic!” said Ireland. “Lexington is a major gateway. Creating a series of boulevards with pollinator and rain gardens would have a striking visual impact. And it would significantly enhance the environment, establishing habitat for bees and butterflies.”
Ireland recently invited Nguyen to present his boulevard idea to the environmental committee.
“I’d love to support him however I can, including get out there and help him dig,” said Ireland. “He’s so enthusiastic. It’s refreshing to see the energy and excitement one person can generate.”
Annie Huidekoper, another District 10 council member, is also a fan.
“I admire his vision,” she said. “His aesthetic is very different from mine, but I love that he focuses on pollinators.”
She was driving by recently, saw Nguyen in his yard and slowed down to say “hi” and tell him how much she admired what he was doing for the birds and bees.
“He puts it out there, and I appreciate it,” Huidekoper said. “He’s a very passionate guy.”
Nguyen hopes to begin planting the boulevards next spring. In the meantime, he’ll keep drumming up support — and enjoy being out in his yard, interacting with neighbors, for as long as he can.
“In Minnesota, there are only five months to do gardening,” he said. “I love to bring a smile to [people’s] faces.”