Wild and Contained
South American farming practices flourish in a Deer Isle garden.
TEXT BY ANDREW MILLER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY HEIDI KIRN
Guillermo Diaz met Bonnie Bochan while working at Ecuador’s Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve in the Amazon basin. He had grown up cultivating his family’s 25-acre vegetable farm on Chimborazo, the country’s highest mountain. She was a visiting ornithologist from Maine studying migrating songbirds. After marrying and moving to Bochan’s home in Winterport two years later, the couple decided to combine his farming expertise and her knowledge of wildlife conservation to launch a landscaping business specializing in pesticide- and fertilizer-free gardens.
In 2013, they bought 18 acres on Deer Isle, where Diaz’s first chore was cleaning out a trash-filled raspberry thicket for his vegetable garden on a gently rising slope behind their 125-year-old farmhouse. “The property was a terrible mess,” he says. “I even found an old boat buried under the weeds.” To protect the clearing from deer, he built a 6-foot-high deer fence of bone-white driftwood, then hauled in seaweed and topsoil and laid out an assortment of randomly shaped plots and meandering paths covered with homemade mulch of brush clippings and leaves.
Summer temperatures on Deer Isle are not so different from on Chimborazo, which, at 10,000 feet above sea level, reaches the 60s during the day and the 30s at night, year-round. Diaz was pleased to discover that his island garden could support black corn, which Ecuadorans use to brew colada morada, a zesty drink thickened with flour and flavored with tart fruits, spices, and brown sugar. Interspersed among the corn are amaranth and quinoa, both common crops in Ecuador.
Diaz never uses chemical pesticides, preferring to let white-throated sparrows, song sparrows, and other birds eat the beetles and cutworms. Marigolds, which emit a strong odor that repels noxious insects, are planted among climbing beans, summer and winter squashes, fava beans, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, chard, beets, carrots, dill, and cilantro. Scarlet runner beans, Mexican sunflowers, and butterfly bushes add diversity and lure hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees, and other pollinators.
Outside the vegetable garden, Bochan has allowed wildflowers to take over much of the lawn, augmenting them with roses, catnip, queen of the prairie, goldenrod, purple iris, and white-and-lavender butterfly bushes. These varieties provide food and cover for migratory birds and beneficial insects. She is particularly proud of her milkweed plants, which crawl with monarch butterflies, an iconic species notable for its annual migrations between the U.S. and Mexico. “I love the way the natural world is so interconnected,” Bochan says.
The couple’s use of natural materials to fertilize and protect a diverse assortment of native and South American plants is an inspiration to fellow islanders. Since they took over the Deer Isle property, it has become a regular stop on the Island Heritage Trust’s Walks & Talks events and frequently draws visitors from the local garden club. “Guillermo is a true artist. His creations are both wild and contained,” says Tim Semler, co-owner of Tinder Hearth, a bakery and farm in neighboring Brooksville. “His gardens never interfere with natural beauty rising out of the soil.”