Hoffman and Landscape at Yankton Federal Prison Camp

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These days, the cast iron boundaries of Yankton Federal Prison Camp, once Yankton College campus, allow the public to view the park – like landscape within. Homes surround the camp. In the early years of the prison camp, concerns about the appearance of the former college grounds were abated by prison officials’ directives and the work of horticulturist and teacher, Joe Hoffman, with the help of prison inmates.

Joe Hoffman reflects on his experiences at Yankton Federal Prison Camp, as he soon retires.

Hoffman is responsible for the care of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals on the camp grounds. He teaches inmates who want to earn a two-year Associates Degree in Horticulture. From his classes, a few inmates are entrusted to help Hoffman maintain standards with the landscape. Plants within the camp have become Hoffman’s “living plant collection” that he uses with students for their study.

A pear tree grown from seed by a student was trained into espalier along the outside of a building. Thanks to Hoffman for this photo and other photos below.


Hoffman is known for his practical and thrifty gardening approach that is reflected on campus. These overgrown junipers were re-purposed with pruning to these topiaries.


Variety of trees on the campus changed from eight genera of trees such as elm, ash, hackberry, and linden, to sixty different genera or species today. They include Northern Catalpa, Kentucky Coffee tree, Red Bud, Korean Mountain ash, and several kinds of birches. Hoffman is pictured here planting a tree.


As the last campus elm died from Dutch Elm disease, the trunk was shaped by an inmate, into a golden eagle and a nest was fashioned with twigs as a focal point with a bed of grasses and other perennials beneath.


A product of Hoffman’s capstone design class of students is the yearly flowerbed of annuals on Observatory Hill along Douglas Ave. Here inmates marked out the winning design for the 2016 design.


2016 Olympic Rings design of vincas and marigolds caught public attention far beyond campus.


If you’d like to find out more about Hoffman as a teacher and horticulturist at the prison camp, see this link:




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