Transplanted Gardener Adds Green Thumb To Garden Tour



Going on the Rim Area Gardeners' Mogollon Garden Tour this weekend, you will be seeing the result of almost a year of work by Barry Peiffer and his team.

Peiffer is the team leader for the garden group's tour committee.

A resident of Payson for two years and a member of the Rim Area Gardeners for just as long, Peiffer retired from Bell Laboratories. He was the project manager for developing the software for AT&T's telecommunications network. Consequently, he is a man who believes in long-range planning.

He said in the past, the annual garden tour was arranged over just a few months leading up to the event. When he accepted the job of team leader for the project, he and the other volunteers started planning the tour last August.

Peiffer has been gardening since the mid-1960s. Asked what led him to his passion, he said his wife, Nancy, thinks it is his German background. He said a relative did the family's genealogy and discovered most of their ancestors were German farmers.

"My wife says I was born with a green thumb and she says hers is a black thumb. It's very enjoyable to work in the soil, once I learned about the soil out here. It may be mostly rock, but it's still a type of soil," he said.

Starting to garden in Payson, he had much the same experience as other gardeners taking on the Rim country for the first time. There is a standing joke at the garden club: you start to plant something using a traditional garden shovel, when that fails to make a dent in the dirt, you try a spade; that doesn't work, so you try a pick; finally you have to rent a backhoe.

"Every time a new member relates their woes with the soil, we all have to laugh because we had the very same experience," Peiffer said.

Peiffer and his wife settled on retiring in Payson after coming through for about 12 years to see their son in Phoenix. Peiffer said they would take different routes across the country, but they would always come through Payson. He said they watched the community grow and bought a home here in 1999.

Settling in Payson was a compromise though. He grew up in central Pennsylvania and wanted to be where there was snow, so he was interested in retiring in Maine. His wife, on the other hand, wanted to be where it was always warm and thought they should retire in Florida. But after living here, he said his wife says she would never live in Florida.

Payson gives them both what they want a small town where there is snow and warm temperatures.

The couple had a two-story 3,300-square-foot home in New Jersey and Peiffer said his wife wanted something smaller here. But he convinced her they should buy something of a similar size.

"Traveling, when we stayed with people things were usually cramped and I felt like we were imposing. With this kind of space, we mostly use the upstairs, our guests have plenty of room," he said.

Coming from New Jersey and growing up in Pennsylvania, Peiffer said one of the biggest adjustments he had to make as a gardener was making the mental change of dealing with limited water and embracing Xeriscape. The limited water supply was one of the things that surprised him most when he moved here.

"I had not considered it coming from the east. But we have our own well, so I am much more sensitive to how much water is used and we are learning its management," he said.

The previous owner of his home had landscaped with plants that needed lots of water, but over the years those were scaled back.

"He had six raised gardens that he had not been able to use for several years, plus fruit trees. We still have the fruit trees, but we are moving toward a landscape with plants native to arid climates. Watering grass should not be allowed here in my opinion," Peiffer said.

Model railroads are another hobby he enjoys, and he plans to combine it with his gardening. The landscape he is building will also be a garden railway, where the plants are incorporated into the model railway design. When it is completed, it is likely to be something to behold; the Peiffer property is 2.6 acres.

Coming from a life's work with computers, Peiffer keeps up with the tech world by critiquing websites as yet another hobby. In fact it was a Realtor's website that led him to the home he and his wife finally bought in Payson.

He went into the sales office with a list of properties that had been advertised on their site and told them he chose the company because the site was so easy to use.

"Most websites are not designed with the user in mind," he said.

Peiffer also stays active in the computer business by taking care of system repairs for senior citizens at his church, Mount Cross Lutheran.

He also has his own business to help companies tap into the work force in the retired population, Experienced Associates.

He said businesses have to work with the retirees' schedules and that means lots of added responsibilities for personnel departments. So the concept of his business is to provide the management of the retiree work force.

Since the recent economic problems, his business did not quite get off the ground the way he thought it would. Right now he is the only retiree employee.

Peiffer stays active with computer professionals' organizations and also teaches math for Eastern Arizona College.

He encourages everyone to come out this weekend to enjoy the Mogollon Garden Tour. Tickets are only $5 per person and can be purchased at both the Payson and Pine Libraries, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ace Hardware, Plant Fair Nursery and from members of the Rim Area Gardeners. The tour is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 1 and from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 2.

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