Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

When a petite garden soiree becomes a full-blown fundraising affair, you can bet that Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser have something to do with it. This dynamic duo has become well-known for their annual get-togethers during the holidays, and now more recently, their end-of-summer, garden gatherings. Take a walk down the block and see inside their quaint garden party turned inclusive block party. When this couple decides to entertain, the theme is always, ‘The more the merrier’.

Gaining a Garden
Last summer, we heard that Jones and Erbstoesser had recently transitioned from a downtown condo to a new home in West Fargo. Their new, larger home meant gaining a backyard so Jones could once again pursue his love of gardening…and of course, garden parties. It wasn’t long before their July 29th plans for a quaint garden party escalated. Their small gathering had become a full-blown, inclusive block party with a bevy of supportive sponsors and the Front Fenders entertaining the crowds. To give the event a meaningful purpose, the couple reached out to United Way and set plans in place for a silent auction and proceeds to benefit their cause.

Greetings from the Garden
Midway through Monte and Jerry’s block party, we headed to the backyard to see their relaxing retreat including a pool, hot tub and garden gazebo. Following a charming stone pathway, we took a tour through the wildflowers, ponds, bird baths and whimsical sitting areas. While Erbstoesser steers clear of the garden work and focuses on pool maintenance, Jones is always at work gathering rocks, placing stepping stones, bird baths and an array of floral he aptly names after Hollywood characters – a nod to his early years in theater.

In just one summer, Jones has transformed a vacant field into a beautiful, backyard retreat.

“The Maple trees are Fire Red Maples, so I’ve named them Scarlett and Neely O’Hara – Scarlett’s from Gone with the Wind and Neely is a character from a really bad movie that nobody knows about called Valley of the Dolls,” laughed Jones. Next, we meet a Korean Willow he refers to as Winifred and another as Wilimena. “The Wisteria on the lattice is Whinny. I’m still trying to think of a really great sister act to name the Poplars.”


“The garden parties have always been fun. At the first one we went to, back at their historic home, it was just the most eclectic group of people – we saw pink hair, clergyman, elderly folks bringing hotdish, a neighbor playing piano in the backyard and everything you can imagine,” laughed Dianne Swenson. “They are wonderful guys; we love them and when we’re invited, we definitely try to be there.”

“I think the inclusive side of the party is great – they love everybody and that’s what it’s about,” said Lois Koppang.

[In]clusive Invites
“The reason it all started years ago, is that we have all of these people that we really like, but they don’t know each other. So, we thought if we really like these people…let’s get them all together to meet the other people that we really like,” explained Jones. “I don’t know exactly what it is we do, but the feedback that we get from people about these parties validates everything that we do. This is just what brings us joy.”

“We extended our invite to everyone in Brooks Harbor and also over to the Eagle Run neighborhood. One of the first to arrive was a couple with their young son; they had just bought a house in Brooks Harbor a few months ago and they didn’t know anybody. I told them to come on in and we’ll introduce you – you’ll know everybody by the time you leave,” said Jones.

There Goes the Neighborhood…
When Jones and Erbstoesser move into a new neighborhood, you’ll definitely know when they arrive. “Either you’re going to like us or you’re going to hate us,” Erbstoesser laughed. “This is who we are; we like to entertain, so we entertain. Once the neighbors found out about this garden party, they were completely on board with everything, even the live band. They were all asking what they could do to help.”

“We haven’t even been here a year yet, and the whole street is wonderful,” said Jones. “Every Friday and Saturday night we have our garage doors open, we walk the street – people have bonfires in their driveway – it almost reminds me of being at the lake, minus the water.”

Gathering Support
Gathering supporters, the two soon found out that many local businesses were willing to donate auction items, food, time and talent to their party. Happy Harry’s donated 10 cases of wine and 30 cases of beer while Proof Artisan Distillers coined a specialty drink for the occasion. An array of donated auction items included NDSU football tickets, theater tickets, plaques and everything in between.Giving Back in a Big Way
When the day was done, Jones and Erbstoesser had officially raised $4,661 with the help of their sponsors and the community! On August 20th, Jones and Erbstoesser presented one giant, garden party check to United Way of Cass-Clay’s Kristi Huber and Travis Christopher.

“Bottom line is, it’s not about us, it’s about what we can help bring to the community – this time the community gave back far more than we did.”
Monte Jones

Garden Party Sponsors:
Delta by Marriot, United Way, Happy Harry’s Bottle Shop, Firestone, Bob 95, Front Fenders, The Teehive, Proof Artisan Distillers, Johnson Brothers, Republic National, Bank of the West, Culinex