Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/23/10)

A serendipitous moment it was for Corporal Pam Koch, a Coconino County Sheriff’s Deputy on patrol, when she checked out a car parked on Koch Field Road to see if she could render assistance. Inside the parked car was a young man, neither inebriated nor stoned, counting the number of cones on a pinyon pine. The cone counter was a graduate student studying ornithology with Professor Russell Balda of NAU who is famed for his knowledge of birds in the Southwest, particularly the pinyon jay.

Counting the number of pinyon pine cones, of course, is related to the study of the feeding patterns and habits of birds which led to an ornithological relationship with Dr. Balda, banding of pinyon jays in her yard. You see, Pam Koch is a birder herself who has attracted over 80 varieties of birds to her yard. She’s been featured in articles by Cornell University’s famed ornithological laboratory along with her photographs of birds. She’s also published an article in Wildbird Magazine on her participation in Project FeederWatch, a citizen scientist program. In addition to cruising the highways and byways of Coconino County as a sheriff’s deputy, she’s made her mark as a birder and photographer.

However, that is only the beginning of Pam’s story. She’s also a Master Gardener who’s designed and built with the help of her husband, Lt. Ken Koch, of Flagstaff Police Department, a garden that’s won the 2010 Best Native Plant Garden of the Flagstaff Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. All this has been done in Doney Park where her garden is blessed with great soil, having once been a bean field, and cursed with wind whipping down from the San Francisco Peaks.

The genius of her garden is the relationship between native plants and birds. To attract lots of birds a garden must have lots of native plants, a crucial correlation for gardeners who want their gardens to attract birds. The principle is simple. Native plants grow the kind of food that birds like, especially in the High Country.

First off, her garden is beautiful, not the kind of image that comes to mind when thinking of the forest floor with its scrub grass and occasional struggling wild flower. It is authentically lush. Meandering through the front yard is a stream bed of river rock whose chief function is to drain off water from the neighborhood. Various native plants have been planted on the street side of the stream bed, such as Sunset Crater and Rocky Mountain penstemons, Virginia creeper, Gamble and Pin oaks, and chokecherry. On the house side is a thick green lawn of native grasses.

The front yard is a bit of a teaser. When one rounds the house through the side yard, one finds a horticultural jewel, again a lush lawn of native grasses, a fountain, and a pond, all ringed with native and adaptable flowers, such as Shasta daisies, bearded irises, yarrows, agastaches, black-eyed Susans, and bee balm. A haven, it is a rest for those with stressing occupations, such as policemen and sheriff’s deputies. The effect is complete, the songs and colors of the birds, the scents and colors of the flowers, the soothing pond, a lush, thick green lawn, and the murmuring of the water fall, a garden of its own enclosed by a wooden fence.

Of course, a haven needs protection. Surrounding the inner garden, a sanctum sanctorum, an outer garden forms a protective perimeter, shielding the inner garden from outside onslaughts, particularly Doney Park’s winds and unwanted animals. Enclosing the outer garden of chokecherries, lilacs, sumac, Gamble oak, and mock orange, is a chain link fence hidden by the native plants.

Pam’s garden, the whole of it, but particularly the inner garden, is like Bobbie Burn’s “melody that’s sweetly play’d in tune.”

Next week, Ann Marie Zeller’s winning “A Quintet of Gardens.”

On Sunday, take a Self-Guided Tour of the 13 Gardens from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Maps are available at Warner’s, Winter Sun, and Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed on Saturday and only on Sunday at the Flagstaff Community Market from 8:00 a.m to noon.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean

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