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Agnes Rodriguez Has Tall Tree Tales to Tell

Agnes Rodriguez in front of the bougainvillea that blooms beneath the avocado.

It was 19 years ago that Agnes Rodriguez cut open an avocado she had purchased at the commissary and found the seed split open and a little stem with a white leaf protruding. Of course, she had to plant it though she did not expect it to ever fruit since seedlings take much longer than grafted plants.

She chose the small walled in area just outside the tub in the bathroom where it would be protected from the elements and her son did the planting.

He also did the pruning when it grew over the top of the wall a several years later, but that just caused it to form two strong branches around a nice u-shaped crotch at the cut-off point. It kept on growing toward the sun. And of course, there was no fruit, but avocado foliage is quite attractive.

Not long after the storms of 2004, Rodriquez looked out the window and saw what looked like a lime on the ground. She brought it in, cut into it and found it was a small but delicious avocado.

The tree had not been damaged by the storms, but they may have triggered its switch from vegetative to reproductive growth. "I had an uncle in Puerto Rico who was a very successful grower, " she says, "and when a tree would not produce he would threaten it with a hatchet."

Who would have thought that was the beginning of a rich harvest. The military family had moved away and rented the house in the meantime but had finally came back four years ago and made it their retirement home.

Every year since the avocados have been large and they stay bright green. They begin to ripen the 1st of July and they have sometimes eaten their last fruit at Thanksgiving time. Although seedling trees can also have fruit either superior or inferior to its one know parent from which the seed came, this one has fruit with flavor that is excellent and texture that is "like cutting into a pound of butter and the skins just peel away," Agnes says.

On weekends during harvesting time, retired Col. Alfred Rodriguez puts on his coveralls, gets out his ladder and bucket with a long rope and climbs up to harvest 20 to 25 fruits. There were still at least a dozen visible near the top of the tree in mid October, but when he borrowed an even long ladder and climbed up to harvest them, he brought down 27.

"We've had close to 150 this year," Agnes says.

The tree looks quite natural leafing out above the wall. A bouqainvillea's many stems also decorates the view from the bath and blooms at the base of the avocado.

The rest of the landscaping in this garden is a study in "less is more". "When we were selecting the trees, the landscaper recommended Drake elms because I wanted something that would move with every breeze," Agnes says. "They also have the advantage of very small leaflets so there is no raking. I said we'd take six, but he assured he that two would be plenty."

Indeed the two trees fill the area just beyond the pool with elegance. To the side of the pool enclosure is a crooked bottle brush tree. All three are as interesting in the shape and branching as in their foliage and are great climbing trees for their grandson.

A clipped hedge of holly surrounds the sides of the house, an attractive and effective barrier plant. By the side door is a huge gardenia shrub, also clipped to fit the space with military exactness that does not keep it from having 150 flowers during the prime of its bloom and "usually an errant one a month in the off season," Agnes says. "I bought two gardenia plants for $1.50 at K Mart and the other one died. That often happens for me.

During the years when they had renters, they made one mistake of leaving the landscaping to the resident. "He wasn't from Florida and had no idea what to do," Agnes says. "After that we always took care of the landscaping and pool so that it would be in good shape. They came by as need to check it out and plant as needed, but the yard has mostly trees and well selected flowering shrubs.

"I have always loved to grow things," she says, "and I can't give away any gift, so I have two poinsettias and a Christmas cactus that blooms every year." Bright crotons offer welcome at the front door and a ficus fills the archway at the front of the house.

The amazing seedling tree took a long time to fruit but is going strong now.

Bright crotons and Ixoras offer welcome at the front door.

Drake elms move with every breeze, give dappled shade, and seldom outgrow their welcome.