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Fargo couple transforms blank slate of backyard into bountiful landscape

Joyce Duenow enjoys upcycling old objects to incorporate into the landscape. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 4
Mitch and Joyce Duenow call this area of their backyard the “anti-work” space. Their garden is part of the Soroptimist International of Fargo’s Annual Garden Tour. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 4
The Duenows sit in one of several places for relaxing in their Fargo backyard. Dave Wallis / The Forum 4 / 4

FARGO - When Joyce and Mitch Duenow moved to their south Fargo home 15 years ago, their lawn was a blank slate.

But it didn’t take the green-thumbed couple long to transform the empty lawn into an impressive garden with multiple nooks.

The public can tour the Duenows’ garden, along with others, during the Soroptimist International of Fargo’s Annual Garden Tour July 16-17.

Joyce and Mitch have been part of the tour for many years, and they’re excited to show the community how their garden’s transformed.

Each of the nooks in their garden has its own theme. There’s the woodsy, lake-like retreat in the front yard and a cottage garden area in the backyard, perfect for sipping a morning cup of coffee.

Other alcoves include a fairy garden under the deck and a shaded space between two willow trees, complete with zero-gravity chairs. The couple calls it their “anti-work” area.

Although it’s a lot of work to maintain the yard, the Duenows say it’s worth it. They’ve transformed a handful of empty lawns as they’ve moved around the U.S. for Mitch’s military career, living in Alaska, California, Washington and Nebraska.

“It must be the farm kids in us,” Joyce says. “Once you commit to gardening, you can’t decide the next year, ‘Oh, well that was fun,’ and not keep it going.”

The two farm kids grew up north of Fergus Falls, Minn., and they incorporate elements from farms into their city garden.

White rocks from farms in Minnesota outline garden areas, Mitch’s vintage bicycle decorates a fence, and a 100-year-old log is part of the fairy garden.

Joyce clarifies that “gardening” to them doesn’t necessarily mean growing vegetables or flowers.

“It’s more about landscaping,” she says.

The spouses each have their own role in maintaining and expanding the garden. Joyce typically searches for new ideas and performs manual labor while Mitch does the skilled labor, like laying bricks.

“I like something fun and creative, and he likes the big challenges and maintenance,” she says.

Both find relaxation and creativity in the hobby, and while they don’t follow every gardening trend, they pick up on what’s appealing to them, like the fairy gardens.

“It’s an art form in its own – the creation and creativity that go with it,” Mitch says.

Examples of the couple’s creativity exist throughout the yard. Mitch builds arbors from fallen willow tree branches, and Joyce upcycles tired garden décor into useful decorative objects. Mitch also created a garden path from 3,000 pounds of stone. The project took six weeks to complete.

The Duenows’ main reasons for gardening are staying active as they age and creating a space they can enjoy. And they’ve learned a few tricks in their decades of homeownership and gardening.

“You have to learn to say when enough is enough, when you have enough trees, enough art in your yard, enough annuals,” Joyce says. “You could go on forever.”

Mitch cautions that projects probably won’t turn out perfectly the first time they’re attempted and people will likely have to do it a couple times to get the results they want.

Most people who see the yard remark that it looks like “way too much work.” But Mitch and Joyce don’t mind.

“We like being able to say we did it all, every step of the way,” Joyce says. “There’s a lot of maintenance, but a lot of enjoyment.”


WHAT: Soroptimist International of Fargo’s Annual Garden Tour

WHEN: 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 16-17

WHERE: Residences throughout Fargo (map available with ticket purchase)

TICKETS: $10 for one day; $15 for both days. Available at all Hornbacher’s locations, Baker Garden & Gift in Fargo, Shotwell Floral & Greenhouse in Fargo, Levi Runions Garden Center in Sabin, Minn., and Holland’s Landscaping & Garden Center in Moorhead.

Tickets will also be available at each home on the tour. Funds from the tour benefit women in the community through two scholarship awards, as well as local groups.

INFO: Call (701) 235-1547.

Anna G. Larson

Anna G. Larson is a features reporter with The Forum who writes a weekly column featuring stylish people in Fargo-Moorhead. Larson graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in journalism and joined The Forum in July 2012. She's a Fargo native who enjoys travel, food, baking, fashion, animals, coffee and all things Midwestern. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @msannagrace 

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