A $1M gift challenge, plus a spirit-lifting gift to neighbors

Inflatable dragons help connect Redwood City neighbors during pandemic

in Community

Megan Gardner and her husband Taylor Pope needed a psychological lift because of the prolonged isolation brought about by the Covid pandemic. They got one alright—and so has the whole neighborhood—courtesy of the giant inflatable dragons that the two software engineers have been placing in their Fernside Drive front yard for more than a year. Gardner, who has always had an inexplicable love for dragons, stitches them together on her Bernina sewing machine, and her husband takes care of the accessorizing—hats, flags, glasses—for holidays, special events and other themes. It takes 30 to 40 hours to cut out and stitch a dragon together.

They’ve got six “basic” dragons, but by making simple costume changes, the couple has been able to populate the yard with an ever-changing cast of characters for special days both well-known and obscure: Post Office Dragon, Easter Dragon (Post Office Dragon with fuzzy ears),  Back-to-School and Vote dragons, plus dragons for Father’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. They put all their dragons out for “Appreciate a Dragon Day” (Jan. 16). The only dragons the couple didn’t make themselves were ones purchased in 2016 for Halloween and Christmas, which seeded the idea of making their own.

Gardner loves Halloween too and she’d seen an inflatable dragon at Home Depot. She bought it and three months later, another one for Christmas. To describe her personality as “bubbly” seems inadequate. “I don’t know what it was,” she recalls, “but I was like, ‘This is amazing! I want to do this more! … You know what I really want? I want an Easter dragon.’”  She bought a smaller dragon but put aside the Easter dragon idea. Then Covid came along, and the duo turned the Christmas dragon into a “Covid 19 First Responder Dragon”—with a mask, blue gloves and a little roll of “toilet paper” made out of very strong nylon.

They put the dragon out in April 2020 and left it up for months. “We’d be out in the yard and people would say, ‘We love your dragon!’”  At the time, Gardner continues, “People were searching for ways to connect and it was a way to connect in the neighborhood.”  The dragon eventually developed a tear so she took it apart to make a paper pattern, and sewed a dragon for the Fourth of July. But when the novice dragon-makers inflated the creation, it was too top-heavy to hold the weight. They’ve learned a lot through trial and error, including where to buy windproof silpoly and silnylon synthetic fabric to turn their never-ending ideas into durable dragons. They’ve added zippers to the head and belly to make it easy to attach accessories like a large foam top hat for New Year’s Dragon.

For “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (Sept. 19), Gardner placed a baby monitor by the dragon and would  give visiting kids a hearty pirate greeting from inside the house. “We had kids coming for like a week after trying to talk to the dragon,” Gardner says. Her husband set up a website (fernsidedragons.com) and an Instagram account (@fernsidedragons). The feedback from neighbors continues to be enormously gratifying.  People leave notes thanking Gardner and Pope for the joy they’ve brought to the neighborhood during the pandemic. One person dropped off a succulent. The couple treasures the dozens of handmade Valentines and notes they received in February. “It’s like super validating,” says Gardner, who had felt so alone during the pandemic.  Knowing she was doing something to lift her neighbors’ spirits justifies all the effort. “I can’t fix Covid. I can’t fix all the unrest in the country. I can’t fix the political divide.  But I can make dragons,” she says, with a burst of laughter. “And people can connect over it.”