Couple enjoys their backyard oasis featuring creek, kitchen
FARGO — On this beautiful summer afternoon as the scent of a Japanese lilac tree wafts through the air, thoughts about her backyard are ever present for Pauline Economon — even as her photo is taken for this story.
"Do the plants look good?" she asks of the flowers behind her and husband George as they sit at the patio table.
When she sees the reflection in the camera lens she answers her own question.
"Oh, the petunias are looking sharp," she says.
If it seems like Pauline treats her backyard like another child, it's understandable — the Economons have built one of the most beautiful and photographed backyards in Fargo-Moorhead area. Featured on garden tours and magazines, the Economon's oasis on Oak Street features a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen, a babbling brook and a lush array of greenery. And it all happened almost by accident.
Pauline — a retired nurse — and George — retired from the North Dakota Air National Guard — bought the home in August of 1997, just months after a record-breaking flood.
"It was pretty neglected," George says. "The house had been empty for a year and the yard needed some work as well."
They started by replacing a rotting white fence that stood between the neighbor's yard and theirs; it evolved from there. The gardening bug had bitten. Soon they were building a garden area in the back of the yard, full of perennials, annuals, vegetables and even hops used in beer.
"One thing you realize as you wander around back there is that it's really eclectic," George says. "You might see a rose and right next to it, a cabbage."
"We like to mix it up," Pauline adds.
Also, important to the Economons is thinking about the birds and the bees as they build their garden.
"Because of pesticides, we're losing our pollinators," Pauline says. "We wanted to put in plants that attracted birds and bees."
"It's not just beautiful. It's a practical landscape. It has a purpose," George adds.
"It's also really neat to look out and see all the hummingbirds. It is definitely beautiful and just so relaxing," Pauline says.
One of the most relaxing elements is the man-made stream that meanders through the backyard. Landscape artist Stan Hoglund suggested it because of the rolling hills already present there.
"It was just kind of a natural fit," George says, looking at the water cascading over the multi-colored pebbles in the water. "I just love the sound it makes. It's so peaceful. It takes away your stress when you're back here.
"The birds love it, too," Pauline adds. "You can see them diving in and taking a bath sometimes."
A wooden bridge provides a pathway over the creek. It's adorned with a small metal placard with the creek's name, "Uppa Creek."
"That's my husband's sense of humor," Pauline says.
One of the most popular parts of the backyard is the outdoor kitchen, featuring a Kalamazoo grill, which uses gas, wood or charcoal and can heat up to 800 degrees. The kitchen also has a mini fridge, a fireplace and a comfortable seating area.
"The fireplace lets us extend our outdoor time," George says. "We don't have a lake cabin, so this becomes the place where we spend summer."
After 10 years of work, the Economons are still keeping busy. Pauline is a master gardener now so she likes helping others achieve their backyard dreams. The couple also likes to experiment with plants that aren't supposed to grow well this far north, like a magnolia.
"You think about Georgia, right? But I decided to try it," Pauline says. "I give it a southern exposure, and it seems to be doing well."
They're also experimenting with a pear tree and a cherry tree and finding work to do in the backyard whenever they see it.
"I don't really view it as work," Pauline says.
"We just come out here and chase the dog around," George adds. "It's just nice to be back here and escape from the world."