Gardener's Secret: Horse Manure

Local couple creates a quarter-acre maze of color

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by Jim Keyworth

roundup staff reporter

There are literally thousands of plants growing in the half-acre yard of Pauline Rodriguez on Evergreen Street, including some she doesn't even recognize.

"It's just wonderful," she said. "I walk out and find all these mystery plants that the birds have planted. That's the only way they could have gotten there."

As an example, she points out what she calls a "renegade pumpkin." It's a giant of a plant, complete with several large pumpkins.

That's not to say that Rodriguez who was born and raised on a farm and husband Larry haven't done their fair share of planting. Larry owned a landscape company for 27 years in Los Angeles.

And then there are the native plants that were growing on the property when they bought it.

Growing in Rodriquez' yard are eight kinds of chilis, eight different mints, and, count 'em, eight different kinds of Martha Washington geraniums.

Then there are the 20-foot volunteer sunflowers, corkscrew willows and "all kinds of herbs."

In fact, a guided tour of the grounds with a running commentary by Gonzalez makes one's head spin:

"Got alfalfa over there for the butterflies parsley for the butterflies.

"Fuchsias we never cut them back.

"Love the cannas day lilies and columbine roses hanging ivy.

"Don't even know what these are. I just call them red.

"This is called Bengal tiger globe thistle locust trees butter and eggs.

"California poppies just a mass of orange.

In the vegetable garden area, her tomato plants are as tall as she is, and are filled with ripe, juicy fruit. Her favorite variety is Early Girl.

"I like them for canning," she says. "They're just perfect for the size of the jar."

Then there are fruit trees, including several varieties of apples, a Santa Rosa plum, and plenty of peach trees.

"Every time we eat a peach, we throw the pit out and we have a new peach tree," she said.

It's an attitude that reflects her philosophy of gardening never get rid of anything. "I never throw away a seed or a plant when it breaks off," she said, "so I end up with an awful lot of plants. We shred everything. We have two compost piles and we just use it for mulch on the soil."

Rodriguez and her husband moved to the Rim country from the Valley 10 years ago, primarily to garden.

"You're kind of limited down there," she said.

When they bought their property, which includes two houses, it was so thick with native vegetation "you couldn't walk through it." But Larry mentally laid out his paths, keeping as much native stuff as we could, she said.

What he created is best described as a maze, with paths cutting through walls of dense vegetation as they wander around the entire property. Without Rodriguez along as a guide, you're not entirely sure you'd be able to find your way out.

But you wouldn't be bored. At every turn, it seems, is a water feature ponds full of fish, fountains and meandering streams.

"We love the sound of water, and you can make a water feature out of anything," she said. "All you need is a pump and something that will hold water."

Rodriquez' husband, in fact, has just finished making a whirling fountain out of a kid's wading pool and a toy fire hydrant. Which brings up another unique characteristic of Rodriquez' yard: scattered everywhere among the lush greenery are novelty planters, props and decorative pieces.

Many, like the spinning fire hydrant, were once toys. They include a toy shopping cart and wheelbarrow, Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz," a bicycle, and, one of the highlights of the entire tour, a full-blown, battery-powered, ride-in kid's jeep.

"Some friends said they were going to take it to the dump," she said. "When I said I wanted it for a planter, everybody said I was crazy. Now everybody wants to buy it."

Other props scattered about include a golf bag, cart, white shoes and ball; a push lawnmower; old cowboy boots; lawn chairs; a straw hat; a porcelain tiger; an ice bucket; a breadmaker; a rice cooker; and an old teapot.

"The thrift stores love to see me coming," she said with a laugh.

And then there are the bowling balls. That's right, Rodriguez has scattered colorful bowling balls around the yard, including one that at first glance you would swear is a killer tomato.

But maybe the biggest surprise is the giant, full-sized porcelain turkey that stares out through some bushes.

"We lived in Oklahoma, and during World War II my dad raised broad-breasted brown turkeys just like this one for the government to feed the troops," she said. "When I saw these guys at Wal-Mart, I said, 'I've got to have that.' That's how my dad raised enough money to buy a farm in Iowa."

But it's the plants, not the turkey and other props, that consume Rodriquez, and she is quick to share some gardening tips with her Rim country neighbors. The first is just two words: "horse manure."

"It's just the best thing for gardens there is. I spend a lot of time online, and according to the experts horse manure is the most balanced," she said. "Chicken has too much nitrogen, and cow gets pretty hot too.

"But horse manure you can pretty much use green. Of course, I make horse manure tea."

The recipe: "You put maybe three or four inches of manure in a bucket, fill it up with water, and let it set for four hours or four weeks. The longer you let it set, the more you have to weaken it down, but that's what I use to water all my plants.

"Alfalfa tea is a wonderful fertilizer, too," she said. "You just go down to the feed store and buy the alfalfa pellets they feed the horses and put it in water."

Besides tea, horse manure makes a wonderful mulch, Rodriguez said.

"Mulching is the most important part of gardening here," she said. "We put 8 to 10 inches of manure on all our beds every fall and let the worms work that in. Our beds are just as mellow as they can be; it's the best potting soil there is."

And if you thought gardening was a seasonal sport, think again.

"We garden year round," she said. "People think after the frost comes, gardening is over. But we garden year round, because winter is the ideal time to move plants, plant new plants, redesign the beds."

It's a strategy that has won her at least one best-of-show award at the Northern Gila County Fair every year she's been up here.

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