They dug out a big hole with a borrowed backhoe, building a backyard swimming pool based on instructions they got from a DVD. The work took two months.
Then Bill and Sara Blink took the dirt leftover from the swimming pool and piled it in a mound at the back of their originally flat lot. Fortifying the mound with rock, Bill built a multi-tiered waterfall that splashes into a nearly 4,000-gallon pond that he dug five feet deep.
Working together, the Blinks installed a wood fence the length of their lot on the south side, screwing in every board individually, and Sara planted a deep border bed of hostas and other perennials one end to another, edging it herself in rock.
During 30 years of living on a two-acre site off Davenport's Northwest Boulevard, the Blinks have created, little by little, a secluded world of their own design and one in which they take a great deal of pride.
"This is our little paradise," Bill said one recent evening, sitting on a lawn chair by the pool. "We close out the gate; we close out the world.
"Sara has an amazing ability to create and envision improvements and changes," he continued. "I'm more of a do-er and cannot always see her vision, but to be sure, it's always beautiful when we are done.
"There is no better feeling than to see the grandkids feeding the fish or having friends over for a campfire and hot dogs."
If a visitor asks whether the Blinks did this or that project themselves or if they hired it done, the answer almost always is that they did it themselves.
In addition to the swimming pool, pond/waterfall and fence, other features include:
• Vegetable and herb gardens, a grape arbor and a dahlia bed.
• A fire pit.
• An arbor-and-swing that Bill built for Sara for their 10th anniversary based on a picture she saw on the cover of a Better Homes & Gardens publication.
"I showed him the picture and said, 'That's what I want,'" she said.
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• An outdoor sink set in a granite countertop sheltered by a pergola. The royal blue porcelain sink came from Habitat ReStore, as did two lacey ornamental iron panels of oak leaves and acorns that support the pergola.
The sink serves as a work station as Sara prepares her tomatoes for canning, cucumbers for pickling and tomatoes and peppers for making salsa.
By this time of the year she is dehydrating peppers and tomatoes that she will run through a coffee grinder, creating a powder she adds to add to pasta dishes in winter. "It makes for a much richer flavor," she said of the concentrated powder.
As summer turns rapidly to fall, some of the Blinks' flowers are fading and the leaves are turning crispy, but Sara is already planning for next year.
Just last week she acquired dozens of perennial plants that an area business was clearing out for the season and gave to her for free. She's eager to get the plants into the ground, and already is gathering seeds to start in her small greenhouse next spring. She starts all her annuals, both flowers and vegetables, from seed.
In recent years, she's developed a keen interest in growing plants for pollinators, especially butterflies, so all around her yard, poking through the yarrow, lamb's ear, sedum and other "proper" plants, one sees multiple stalks of scraggly common milkweeds.
She and Bill applied for, and received, designation as an official Monarch Waystation, a project of Monarch Watch, a nonprofit network of people dedicated to the study, preservation and protection of monarch butterflies. It was founded by Chip Taylor of the University of Kansas.
Dill and fennel are food for swallowtail butterflies, so Sara has planted them in her herb garden. And she uses no pesticides.
"You do not have to be an expert to try to save them," she said of butterflies. "We'd like to get other people involved."
The Blinks enjoy working on their yard separately and together. They enjoy the result. And they really enjoy the wildlife that clearly appreciates their efforts. A new visitor this summer was a clearwing hummingbird moth, a creature whose name describes its appearance.
All the work is worth it.