Lots of people are not gardeners. Non-gardeners include some who just enjoy experiencing and creating space in their yards at home. One of them is optometrist Greg Kouri of Willcockson Eye Associates PC, who lives in Yankton.
“I’m not a gardener,” Greg said. “I just get tons of flowers and try to aggregate them.” Greg and Jill Kouri’s yard of flowers continues the theme of their historic registry Craftsman home. Their yard was featured with five others in the June 2017 Tour of Lawns and Gardens sponsored by Missouri Valley Master Gardeners.
Rusted steel flower planters and prominent window boxes on their two-story house are filled with colorful annual flowers and textured leaves. Ornamental grasses sway in flowerbeds. Clematis vines on metal trellises repeat along a fence backdrop. Mostly mature trees cloister their backyard outdoor kitchen, putting green, secluded seating and large children’s play system. Stone pillars and a redwood fence outline much of the yard. Wide curving beds of perennials accent the boundary fence and house foundation. Details of Greg’s design, choices for the yard and personal effort to make it happen tell more about his landscaping interest.
“This yard project has been an eight to ten-year evolution, with most of the updates the last three years,” Greg said. He refers to the stone pillar masonry, adding landscape rock, side yard design and work, and front entranceway additions. As well as custom work of tradesmen like Guy Larson and Jay Haberer, Greg has had a hand in much that has been done about the yard. His landscaping background is more interest than training.
“It’s been something I liked, going through college at South Dakota State University. I never took classes, but I dabbled some in my biology major. Walking through McCrory Gardens was impressive from that visceral beauty of it—contrast of colors and statures of different plants. When I look at the yard, it’s what worked in the past, and then I try to work that into something different every year,” he said.
“Our yard has looked horrid some years,” Jill said, “but then we’ve had ‘Yard of the Month’ three times.” High school graduation party for their oldest daughter spurred them into action this past season. They are a busy family with many interests, and the stone pillar project took several years to complete.
“We had a guy build cement block pillars and then I faced them with stone,” he said. Stones have a flat side and Greg uses mortar to hold them in place. “I saw that the fence needed rock along the fence to break up the look. I tried grouping the pillars in threes. The privacy fence has decorative wood lattice on top that echoes the Craftsman style. His and the neighbor’s side of the fence are attractive. He has twenty-eight pillars and an outdoor oven that he covered in stone.
“It’s easier now because cement mud comes pre-mixed. You can tell where I started doing this project because I was green. I learned on the fly. Getting the mud to the right consistency, you had to mix sand and masonry cement with it before. Now it comes pre-mixed. Now it’s pretty and joints where the rocks attach don’t break up. I had a lot of joints break because I didn’t know the science of it. Once you’re done, you can’t add more mud. I did that. I worked all day and in a year, the stone popped off.” Now he covers the joint and a bit of cement goes onto the stone.
“Then there’s no room for moisture to get in. It takes me a week to do a pillar. I’m a guy that works with eyes and then runs home, slapping up stones.”
Substantial redwood fence with lattice of squares, rusted metal planters with lots of right angles and detail squares, trellises, and then the rock pillars are elements that convey the Craftsman theme he envisions to go with the house.
“The idea was to get the steel to rust and match the redwood fence so that it’s a part of the look, but it’s not. There are wood and stone and steel components—stick, stone, steel.”
Some trellises are three-sided and echo the Craftsman squares. He selects vining plants that some find a challenge to grow and maintain. ‘Betty Matthews’ wisteria and variegated leaf Virginia creeper are examples. The vines offer welcome contrasting curves to the right angles of the metalwork. They are plants trained and contained into vertical space that gives varying heights among mature trees, tall house, fence and other plantings.
Kouris’ side yard has become part of a welcoming visitor pathway from a tree-form hydrangea at the front curb to the backyard, through a large curved wood gate. Curved pebble path is held in place with metal edging. Plant beds on either side of the path have specimen plants, beginning with a dwarf boxwood hedge near the curb.
Consistent imaginary lines in the yard are the heights of repeating pillars, heights of metalwork, and near ground level, the heights of hardscape along foundation beds. While not noticeable at first glance, this detail adds coherence in the yard.
“Much of this design has come over time,” Jill said. “He thinks things out and sees something he likes, and tries it. He visits many greenhouses and nurseries around Yankton. He realized he had two varieties of boxwood as he was shaping them and he took it out and gave it to someone and replaced it.”
My husband is constantly pruning plants. He leaves a hand pruner on the porch. He unwinds by doing that. He keeps plants trimmed so that they work for our yard,” she said. Pruning includes lots of annuals in planters around the yard as well as the perennials.
The path from the front curb to the backyard gate is curved. This contrasts to the right angles of the Craftsman theme. Greg has designed foundation beds with curves as well.
“That’s what I tried to do here. The curves are sinusoidal, bending in one direction and then the other like a sine wave. In the front yard entry, I stacked stone into curves at different heights. It was new to me,” he said.
“You can see the evolution of my stonework. I started up by the foundation of the house.”
He points out that the horizontal lines of the stacked stone somewhat tapers, instead of maintaining a true horizontal line. While it is so, many planters of colorful flowers in this area draws the eye, so that small variances in hardscape recede from view.
“That’s what bugs me about these projects. If it’s not right, I’ll go correct it. It’s a constant update.”
Greg and Jill want a distinct front entrance from the curb leading to their house. With mature trees, streetlights don’t supply all the light needed to walk up a step from the curb. They want stacked stone hardscape like in the foundation beds, repeated here.
“When stacking stone, I get help moving the big pieces,” Greg said, “or get plastic pipe and move it on rollers like an early Egyptian. The big piece of stone and its curves, define the direction of the area. This wall is about a foot high. You want the stone to hold the dirt in place.” He digs out the area for stonework, adds a layer of sand to the base and lays landscape fabric to hold the carved soil in place. He stacks the first layer of stone and then sets the next layer back a bit. He seats the stone and then fills in the area with sand, packed tight so the stones won’t shift.
“This is ‘Eden stone.’ It’s dense. It’s a little less porous than limestone. It may not grow moss on it.” He stacked the stone to level with turf.
Placing stacked stone on either side of the front walk solves another issue. Lawn grass doesn’t grow well due to tree shade.
Why All This Work?
“I’m still at home and can be a part of what’s going on. I poke my head in the door and say ‘If anybody needs me, I’m out here.’ It’s different from what I do all day. I’m probably a bit more artistic than what my job allows me. Jill has taught me about plants,” he said.
“Some people wouldn’t want the work of all these annuals, but we like the color,” Jill said.
“The house will probably be here longer than us. Realizing that nothing is timeless, maybe our kids will come back and say, this is a great place to convene. Dad figured it out. It’s cool to see some things come around with nurturing. We are blessed. Some projects don’t turn out. It’s a vision of kids getting older and coming home to this place,” Greg said.