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Paradise: Couple turn backyard into a slice of heaven without breaking bank

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Mrs. Hokkanen gathers assorted lettuce from the garden. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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A framed piece of stained glass is mounted into a trellis that Niles Hokkanen made from wood scraps. The trellis is one of many embellishments Hokkanen and his wife, Debbie, have added to their Winchester yard. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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Niles and Debbie Hokkanen stand under a grape arbor in one of the garden areas of their home in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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A begonia hangs outside the sauna area of the home. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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A Buddha statue sits in a shade garden surrounded by hostas at the Hokkanen home in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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Clematis adds color to a walkway into the backyard space at the Hokkanen home. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Jessica Wiant - jwiant@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The plants, trees, trellises, bridges and other features that make Debbie and Niles Hokkanen's yard on Green Spring Road their own slice of paradise could have cost them thousands.But by piecing it together a little at a time -- buying plants on clearance, getting embellishments at yard sales, and, perhaps most importantly, putting in all the labor themselves -- their unique outdoor oasis has been accomplished on a budget.

When the Hokkanens moved to the property in the mid-'90s, the property was plain, bleak even, Hokkanen said, "like a prairie or something." Not only that, their lawn's position along the road has made it the landing zone for more than one car crash.

Over the years, however, the Hokkanens have turned the lot into a place full of features that not only make it seem like a getaway, but that often serve a purpose.

It started when the couple decided to build a traditional Finnish wood stove-heated sauna in the yard after a trip to Finland -- complete with tubs to cool off in.

With the help of Mrs. Hokkanen's brother, they built the sauna and a fence around it and the tubs for some privacy. Later, when the fence needed replacing, the Hokkanens got into building on their own, and it took off.

"I don't think he'd ever driven a nail," Mrs. Hokkanen said of her husband, who is an accomplished music teacher and mandolin player.

Over time, the self-taught Hokkanen built a deck around the sauna; a fence across part of the yard to beautify old telephone poles, which were there to serve as a barrier against any future wayward cars; an arbor; benches and footbridges; and what the couple calls a "four-way trellis" to mask an old satellite pole.

"Because we have so much stuff, we have to have a name for it," Mrs. Hokkanen said.

Bridges took shape across the creek in the backyard, and trellises popped up for Mrs. Hokkanen's climbing flowers and vegetable plants.

Hokkanen explained that he buys lumber and other building supplies whenever they are a good bargain, and does projects based on what he has available -- no master plan here.

The cutoff bin is a major source of Hokkanen's supplies, he said.

"Unless you need the 8- and 12-foot lengths, you can get your material costs down to 20 percent or less," he said.

The two have stocked up on solar lights at a discount too, and use them as chandeliers and lamps all around the yard to light it after dark.

In the backyard, a weatherproof music stand sits near a swing facing the creek.

While Hokkanen builds continually, Mrs. Hokkanen, also a musician, plants and weeds. More than nine little flower beds are scattered around the property, along with a vegetable garden, berry bushes and fruit trees.

"I love doing this. I love pulling weeds. There's something wrong with me," Mrs. Hokkanen joked. "I'll come home and be exhausted but I'll still come out and play in the dirt."

Roses and irises, blackberry and blueberry bushes, daffodils and day lilies, clematis and hostas --Êas many as 200 varieties of plants, are located on the property.

"If there is a place that looks like I could plant flowers on it, I generally do," Mrs. Hokkanen said.

The couple also keep a compost pile, and, Mrs. Hokkanen said, have been blessed with good soil.

On any given summer evening or weekend day, you'll know where to find the Hokkanens.

"My yard is everything to me," she said. "It's just like you're on vacation somewhere."

In fact, when people ask where Mrs. Hokkanen is going on vacation, she tells them her backyard.

"People think that sounds pathetic, but they don't have my backyard," she said.

Of course, that doesn't mean people can't try. Some of the techniques the Hokkanens have employed include, primarily, stocking up on scrap lumber or even Trex boards and posts whenever they are a good deal. They also buy marked-down plants.

They use solar lights, trivets, copper bowls, sections of stained glass and other yard sale finds to personalize each fence, trellis or arbor.

In a couple of spots around the yard, decorated secondhand mailboxes store garden supplies so they are always at the ready.

The final result has cost "almost nothing," said the couple of 21 years.

"We're poor. I work at a bank," Mrs. Hokkanen joked.

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