“When I was in Yankton Middle and High School, and then through college at University of South Dakota (USD), I mowed yards for Dr. Willcockson. He owned this house at the time. I also mowed for others here along the river,” Andy Holst said. He and his wife, Jen Holst, own and manage Embroidery & Screen Works, Inc., on Fox Run Parkway in Yankton.

They met at USD, graduated with business degrees, married, worked in the corporate world, lived in Minneapolis, traveled around the country in Christian youth camps and returned to the area 16 years ago. Since then, they have lived in several locations around Yankton where they renovated the yards.

“I told Jen one time, if the house ever came for sale, and if we were able to do it financially, that this house would be a dream,” Andy said.

“I grew up near the Mississippi and Saint Croix Rivers,” Jen said. She likes the outdoors and nature. She saw the listing for the acre-plus property that includes the house on a rectangular lot on the Missouri bluff in Yankton, and the vertical pie-shaped parcel down to the Missouri River that was for sale.

“We saw the house the first day it was on the market and we bought it,” Andy said. Country in the city. Convenient for walking and biking around town. In town commute to work. Dramatic view of the Missouri River across the whole back of the property. Private access to the river and space for a dock and deck and wildflowers by the water.

“My wife and I are outdoor people, whether walking the dogs or kayaking or working in the yard,” Andy said. They moved into their dream place in September, four years ago, and the multi-directional effort to make it their own began with lots of yard work.

Yard ‘Before and After’ Begins

“It was really hard to focus for me. We’d both get ideas like we could do this over here, and this over here. The yard is very large,” he said. Prominent driveway, spacious lawn, mature ponderosa pine, mature spruce, rock-filled foundation beds and expansive cement back patio, 150 foot drop from the bluff to the water’s edge were part of their given elements.

Mary Ann King, a neighbor, master gardener and friend whose yard he had mowed years before, has been a sounding board with yard experience as they tackle yard projects. She also provided many dozens of hostas that no longer fit her sunny yard. They were ready for transplant as Jen and Andy moved in.

“We hit the ground running. It was an intense time,” he said. “All the hostas along the east property boundary came from Mary Ann King.” The space has shade from the houses. Later his next-door neighbor John Sternquist offered his hand-welded metal picket fence between their properties. Andy helped him put it up. It replaced a chain link boundary fence. Hosta leaves show against the black metal fence as backdrop.

The new owner of the house Jen and Andy moved from, agreed for them to divide some of the perennials from that yard. These included Joe Pye weed, hardy hibiscus, mums, daylilies and hostas. Andy and Jen also checked Facebook “Garage Sale” for free plants in the Yankton area. Perennials, that first fall, came more from other yards.

A lush, roomy lawn accents the clean lines of their house. Kentucky blue grass thrives in this sunny location.

“We live a plant-based lifestyle,” Jen said, “so we’re obsessed with nature and have been chemical-free in the yard for three years. We use natural fish by-products and minerals for lawn fertilizer from Soil Works. They say if you keep your grass thick enough, you won’t have to treat for weeds. In the rock beds, if we see weeds; we pull them.”

Andy sits on their expansive multi-level cement patio under an umbrella with Hispanic style planters of flowers and hanging baskets of succulents around. Morning sun is gentle on this temperate day and birds sing. Someone may have called this an “infinity patio.” To the south, below the edge of the bluff is foliage and the panorama of the Missouri River as it winds into Yankton. Large planters of bird-attracting flowers such as Mandevillas and cannas define the edge of the patio near the edge of the bluff. A chain link fence below the patio has vining concord grapes that attract birds.

“When I used to mow this yard on a hot day, they had the pool here,” Andy said. A previous owner filled in the pool and had a layer of stamped concrete installed over it and around the pool and the former patio.

Some Ideas Work and Others Not Yet

“As we lived here longer, we discovered the back patio is hot in summer,” he said. As he and Jen continue to dream about a long-range plan for the patio area, they implemented some of their ideas.

“Kings and Sternquists have honey locust trees in their backyards along the bluff, so we can see what they will look like,” he said. They looked for a tree with filtered shade canopy of the locust; a tree that can tolerate wind and temperature extremes. All their yards face south on the river and have Missouri bluff windy conditions. If they prune the lower branches as the tree grows, it won’t block the view of the river.

“We installed three honey locusts just below the patio. They were about 7 feet tall. I had to stake them because of the wind here. I relied on Jay Gurney, and watered them the first year. I hope to unhook the stakes this year and watch them for a while,” Andy said.

A previous owner had removed a triangular section of the cement patio for growing plants by the house. Another idea of Jen and Andy, was to enlarge this space to a rectangular area for growing edible plants and patio greenery. After it was enlarged, the space is transitioning into a space for ornamental perennials. Cages supporting tomatoes have southern exposure below the patio. They still have access to the Meridian Plaza farmers’ market nearby.

 “Because it’s hot out here and we like to be outside and the trees won’t provide shade for a few years, Jen and I started spending time sitting out front if we weren’t on the river,” he said. A sidewalk ran from the driveway to the front door with a small patio and a mature spruce nearby. Neighbor boundary lilacs to the north visually blocked the large parking lot nearby and chain link fence separated properties.

Holst California Style

“What we noticed out front, was that our street and the parking lot is often busy. We felt on display. We work well together; Jen is the dreamer and I am the doer,” he said. They settled on a style for fence and courtyard privacy common in the west, especially California where Jen’s relatives live. The style fit well with their house’s tile roof and now dovetail gray stucco walls and large back patio. Working on privacy became their personalized California style of house and yard. The front courtyard is outdoor living space.

Their new wooden privacy fence extends from the entrance to their courtyard, down the driveway and across the side of their property. A compatible wood rail fence extends the length of their west boundary.

“We worked with K Construction,” he said. “They had never built a fence like this. We wanted privacy and air flow into the courtyard.” Andy compared each large louvered panel to fixed interior blinds. They set the angle of the wooden slats so they would allow air and light. The fence is set in a rock bed with bullet paver lawn edging. The easy mow edging is also used around curving foundation beds.

“It’s easy to mow and weed whip around the fence,” he said. “I got the edging at Hardscapes in Yankton.”

“We looked online for ideas of a private courtyard,” he said.

Entering the renovated fence courtyard, we’re greeted with palms and flowers in tall planters. Near the front door is now a larger cement patio with walk around table and seating. A section of north-facing foundation bed has been removed. Growing perennials had been a challenge here and now there is extra space for the seating. Neu Pond and Landscaping completed the outdoor room in May.

Opposite the outdoor seating in the courtyard is the privacy fence. The wide boundary plant bed in front of it includes a mature spruce. Andy had pruned under the spruce to canopy height, which provided more plant bed space. Neighbor’s trees show above the fence and complements the greenery and height of the tall spruce. ‘Tigers Eyes’ sumac offers lime green foliage. A flagpole has a high flower basket planter and hanging baskets of blooming flowers along the courtyard fence add festivity and attract birds.

“We’re looking forward to using the courtyard this fall and winter,” Jen said. “There are so many plants here, it’s like a tropical oasis. Out back, there’s a view but the plants are further away from you.” The contrast of views, near and far, enriches their outdoor living areas.

Jen and Andy’s yard was one of those featured in the 2018 Yankton area lawn and garden tour sponsored by Missouri Valley Master Gardeners. Visitors saw the north-most house wall nearly completed. A globe spruce was the starting point for their creativity.

“Globe spruce was drab with the rock border. We put in a ‘Tigers Eyes’ sumac. Later we added spiral arborvitae. I trim them about twice a year. Jay Gurney gave me pointers,” he said. “You soak the tree with a hose before you trim them. Then your pruning shears don’t get sticky. I can prune these two and one near the entrance in an hour.”

The dense arborvitae and globe spruce contrast in color and shape to the sumac. Andy wanted to do more with the north house wall behind these plants for interest. He thought of the climbing hydrangea. He had moved it from near a chain linked fence because it didn’t thrive.

“Here against the rough stucco it grows well. Mary Ann King has smooth stucco and it left lots of suckers when they painted. They have cool trellises for growing them near the house,” he said. Andy is deciding his next step as the climbing hydrangea grows.

“We always have to have something going, like most people. We hit it hard when we started improving the property four years ago. It’s time to slow down a little and choose what’s next,” Jen said.

“Time to enjoy it,” Andy said. Our neighbors tell us that we never sit down.” This is a place of many possibilities.

Time for the River

We descend 130 ft. in the electric lift that Jen and Andy had installed to connect the yard to the river. On the way down, we see bank stabilizing lilacs that Andy trims each year to keep from blocking the view. River shrubs and small trees and grasses grow on the nearly vertical bank and stabilize it. They have sewn native grasses and wildflowers. For the lift to operate on the track, the foliage has to be trimmed. We stop at the walkway about 20 feet above their river beach.

“We try to be low-maintenance,” he said. “For the bank, I use a gas-powered hedge trimmer. I hold onto the rail. I’m still young. Trimming this lift path is a lot of work.”

This flat area above the river includes a party deck, a boat launch and a natural area of trees and wildflowers. They planted birch trees and other plants here and are excited to see what survives and thrives on the river bank.

“We’ve planted a lot down here but it’s hard to know what is intended and what are weeds,” Jen said. “You can’t see the house from here. It’s like being in another place. The weather here is different than up at the house. Sometimes it’s cooler and breezier.”

“Our neighbors have another dock on the river. Sometimes we meet them there. We’ve had river parties here. We go to the island across from our dock sometimes on weekends. We got kayaks last winter,” she said. River level is up due to extra water releases from the dam and they haven’t tried them in the fast currents. After lots of responsibilities, this is a place to relax outdoors.

 “I feel like we are in nature here. We’ve made our previous homes pretty, but this feels like us,” she said.

“When we got engaged, I proposed to Jen out at the lake. We came back into town and I took her over to an old friend’s house, about four houses down from here. We took a picture in their backyard the day we were engaged,” he said.

 “I think yard improvements attract attention. They can be striking and inviting. I think you show what your space can be and to the buyer, they see it as something they don’t have to do, decide or pay for. It’s done and they’re going to get to enjoy it!

“I do feel like this is our family’s home. We’ve shared it with those most important to us in our lives and we’ve had so much fun enjoying it. My 90-year-old Grandmother traveled here last year from Minneapolis to stay with us here. It was a dream come true for me. It was so fun for me to share my families’ home with her for the first time in 17 years. It represents us well,” she said. At the same time, Jen doesn’t get too attached to where she lives.

 “I’d love to buy another home and improve it. I enjoy that. I’d love to see another family experience our home, yard and the river with their kids. I see potential in every home and every town. I truly love this home, but if someone wanted the opportunity to own it, I’d see the opportunity in that and find another adventure,” she said.

 “I think we’ve done what needed to be done. Our patio is the wild card. It has so much potential as is; large parties, outdoor dinners, games, another pool again, hot tub, an addition to the home. We’ve just been experimenting with how we might use it,” she said. “It’s satisfaction of looking at the finished product and adding to the natural beauty of what’s here. Sometimes, it’s exercise, fresh air, or being outside. Winter especially, perfect reason to be outside; cleaning up down at the river and bonfires.”

“I like to step away from what I’ve done and see it. Do yard projects and see what improvements I’ve made. I’ve never been a carpenter. Yardwork is something anyone can do. I enjoy sharing it with other people. Fun to see people’s reaction to natural beauty,” Andy said. A beautiful, clean designed and landscaped yard doesn’t just happen. It requires a lot from dreamers and doers.

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