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For The Garden

Desert Habitat

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: March, 2014, Page 58
Photos by Garrett Cook

The homeowner (pictured) repurposed cement ashtray receptacles, turning them into planters that she placed along the driveway’s edge.

Sam Campana masters the art of green living while transforming a tired landscape into a lush habitat

After serving as a member of Scottsdale’s City Council for 12 years, including a four-year term as mayor that ended in 2000, Sam Campana spent the following 12 months hunting for a home and yard to transform into a peaceful retreat. “I wanted a landscape that I could fill with native plants for wildlife, while caring for it myself,” she states.

Campana found the home she was seeking on a quarter-acre lot in an established downtown Scottsdale neighborhood. The backyard contained five pine trees in an expanse of sunless dirt. After removing four of the pines to allow sunlight through, she set about gradually rejuvenating the space. Today, her colorful landscape embodies the themes that continue to be integral to her professional career, including living sustainably, preserving wildlife habitat and advocating for Arizona’s artists.

Sustainable Living
Campana grew up in an Idaho farming community, which she believes instilled in her an appreciation for the value of conservation. She also credits her time on the city council—including discussions with Anthony Floyd, Scottsdale’s green building program manager—for increasing her awareness of ways to easily incorporate sustainable concepts into modern lifestyles. Campana implemented many of those ideas at her current home. She composts, collects rainwater, directs gray water from the clothes washer to a pomegranate tree and uses an outdoor clothesline. (When she purchased the home, it included a solar water heater.)

Sam Campana’s front yard wildlife habitat includes cacti, succulents and perennials thriving beneath blue palo verde trees.
“Five compost piles are going at all times in my yard,” says the enthusiastic gardener, who rakes up waste from her backyard chicken coop and adds it to the compost. “However, when my household doesn’t generate enough material to keep five piles going, I grab a bag of free coffee grounds from Starbucks. If I need more compost than I can make, I buy it at Singh Farms.”

The homeowner currently tends two New Hampshire red hens and delights in the flavor of their eggs. “The taste of homegrown eggs versus those from the grocery store is like the difference in flavor between homegrown and store-bought tomatoes,” she notes. If the chickens are allowed to forage among the roses, Campana says their eggs impart the scent of roses. “When I hang an herb bouquet in their coop, I swear that their eggs have an herbal flavor,” she adds.

Raising hens also helps her grandchild-ren understand where food comes from. “At the turn of the 20th century, about 85 percent of the U.S. population lived on farms and 15 percent in cities,” Campana remarks. “At the turn of the 21st century, those figures have flipped.” With so many people living in urban areas, perhaps it is not surprising that some have lost touch with their agricultural and farm roots. “Adults sometimes ask why I don’t have a rooster, so I explain that the hen doesn’t need a rooster to produce eggs, only to produce baby chicks.”

Photos - From left: The backyard’s painted wall sets off the many shades of blues, greens and silvers that desert plants offer. The garden includes barrel, saguaro, totem pole, and fuzzy white old man cacti, as well as a diverse collection of agave and aloe plants. • A New Hampshire red hen forages in a vegetable garden.

Wildlife Habitat
Campana’s stint as executive director of Audubon Arizona from 2002 to 2012 coincided with the planning and initial transplanting of her new landscape. She began filling it with plants to provide for birds, as well as butterflies, bees and other critters. César Mazier, a Phoenix Home and Garden Master of the Southwest, helped her with the original plant selection and location. “César explained the concept of a ‘nursery tree’ that would provide filtered light and shade for some of the more fragile cacti and succulents.” On the north side of her home, a palo verde tree shelters aloe, Arizona queen of the night, lady slipper, Moroccan mound and pencil cactus, along with varied penstemons.

Her yard offers the four essential habitat elements—water, food, shelter and places to raise young—and is designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. To attract more bird species, Campana also fills feeders and puts out enticements (see Bird Treats, Page 63). In her yard, she has spotted 25 species featured in the Beginner’s Field Guide to Birds of Phoenix (Maricopa Audubon Society, 2004).

Some of her easy-to-grow wildlife plants include Texas sage shrubs (Leucophyllum sp.), which are visited by birds gleaning seeds in the fall. Monarch butterflies lay eggs on desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata), and native bees are drawn to octopus agave blooms (Agave vilmoriniana).

A parade of rusted-iron quail perched on a garden stake marks a seed block near a dried cholla rib.
Garden art
To further encourage native bees, Campana’s yard includes two bee habitats made by Arizona artists that are functional as well as fun to observe in action. “Art is a thriving industry in Arizona, and our desert landscapes are ideal venues to showcase it,” Campana believes.

She has been involved with Arizonans for Cultural Development since 1983—currently as chairman emeritus—and continues to advocate and fundraise for the organization. She displays the work of Arizona artists throughout her yard, and also enjoys finding unusual items at yard sales and repurposing them in the landscape.

Campana’s passion for preserving the desert’s flora and fauna continues through her work as advocate/consultant for the Desert Discovery Center to be built at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. “I’m excited to use both my public policy and Audubon nature center experience to help bring to fruition a long-held Scottsdale dream of a visitation and research center in our 33,000-acre mountain preserve.” 

Bird Treats
Sam Campana suggests these inexpensive feeding methods to attract birds to your yard. They are also fun and easy projects to engage children in the natural world. When placing the treats, choose locations where you can view birds from windows.

• Slice an orange in half and stake it on a nail driven into a tree, or stick the fruit on a plant’s stem or sturdy branch. “After I put out citrus, Gila woodpeckers have flown into my yard within thirty minutes,” comments Campana.

• Adult hummingbirds eat insects for needed protein and also feed them to their young. Set out banana peels or other old fruit to attract fruit flies. “Anna’s hummingbirds love those tiny flies more than sugar water in feeders,” Campana says.

• Wrap a foot-long length of string around the thick part of pinecones for easy hanging. Working on a sheet of newspaper to control mess, cover cones in peanut butter, roll in inexpensive birdseed or cornmeal, place them in a sandwich bag and freeze for several hours. Hang from a tree or bush where a cactus wren, house finch or verdin can perch.

A trio of red pots offers cheerful color while hiding an old palm tree stump.

The sound of trickling water is soothing for humans and attracts birds to the landscape. A thick layer of mulch in the rose bed retains soil moisture.
Campana designed the pool fencing, and she and her nephew constructed it using angle iron from a salvage yard. The sculpture in front of the tree trunk is from New Mexico artist Tony Price’s Atomic Art collection.

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