Photos by Hillary Ehlen
George and Pauline Economon bought their north Fargo home in 1997 and, year by year, have turned the backyard into an outdoor oasis. Each season is an experiment, adding and taking away elements to see what works best. From the 22 years the couple has been working on this masterpiece, they’ve enjoyed the thoughtful and creative process along the way.
One step into their backyard and you feel transported to a place that surely cannot be in residential Fargo. Sounds from cars passing through disappear and the only noises you pick up are the trickling of the man-made creek and the songs of birds passing through. A natural hill sets the scene for the bridge passing over flowing water. A statue of Saint Francis, the patron saint of ecology, watches over a bird feeder and welcomes birds coming in from the Red River.
The scene is serene and quiet, yet full of life. Birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer and pollinators all enjoy coming by for a visit, invited or not. Strategic additions, like pergolas creating a wall to the east, were installed to keep hungry deer away. The pergolas are decorated with clematis now, but the Economons previously experimented with growing grapes and hops. “Everything is an experiment, we add and delete every year,” said Pauline.
For the Economons, gardening is more than tending to plants. “Gardening is a form of art, it is a different way of painting. You have to have patience and you don’t really know what the outcome will be,” said Pauline. The peacefulness and thoughtfulness of the practice is something Pauline enjoys the most. George remarked, “Pauline is really an artist and this is her palette.”
The couple began on the south side in 1997 and worked their way around the yard. George laughed, saying, “The only original thing in the yard is a little piece of a hedge. Everything else we have added over 22 years.” Pauline shared that when the weather is nice, she enjoys spending several hours a day working on the garden, weeding and primping her plants. When it comes to gardening, Pauline is encouraging of people starting small and taking baby steps, “It’s just amazing what can happen.”
To enjoy the space they’ve carefully created even more, in 2013 they added on a conversation and grill area. They worked with Land Elements to design and built a stone fireplace feature. Having a fireplace allows them to enjoy their backyard into the fall and winter.
Besides Land Elements, the Economons have enjoyed working with other local businesses to beautify their space. Hoglund Landscape recently helped create a distinct space for their Japanese Maple and native pollinator plants from Prairie Moon Nursery completed this new section. “I try to use local nurseries. Holland’s is wonderful, Sheyenne Gardens, It’s About Thyme pop-up on 10th Street. To find those unusual plants, you have to go to smaller and local nurseries sometimes,” Pauline said.
Pauline became a certified Master Gardener two years ago. Beyond the aesthetics and art of gardening, she understands a scientific and environmental side to it. Their yard is a Certified NDSU Extension Master Gardener Pollinator Garden, meaning it contains an assortment of plants that provide a consistent source of nectar and pollen from early spring to late fall, contains a water source for the pollinators and provides space for pollinators to nest over winter.
This year, Pauline discovered an interest in plant color wheels. A plant color wheel helps to design gardens based on what you want the outcome to envoke, whether that be harmonious colors, contrasting colors or leading the eye to focal points. “There’s a lot of science to color and I’m learning and trying to incorporate it more,” said Pauline.
Rather than a vegetable garden, pollinator garden and flower garden all in designated areas, the Econonmons intermix them. Among locally purchased plants, some of the vegetables they harvest are yellow squash, zucchini, garlic, onion, cherry tomatoes, basil, parsley and cucumbers. With this amount and variety of vegetables, the Economons enjoy offering up the extra bounties to neighbors or the food pantry.
Not thinking of it as a job or work, gardening has become a focus in the couple’s post-retirement life. Even before they retired, they enjoyed coming home from work and digging into this hobby. George shared a story, saying, “I remember about a month or so ago and Pauline came in just all sweaty and she goes, ‘I just really love doing this.'”
“People say, ‘Oh it must be so much work,’ but it’s not work when you love it,” said Pauline, later adding, “To hear the birds and just the beauty of nature. The world is beautiful and life is beautiful and there’s so much goodness and you need to enjoy it when you can.”