Come along to see Susy's beautiful garden photographs and to learn a little more about why she gardens organically.
I'm particularly fond of the cottage garden look, I love flower beds that are overflowing with plants and blooming with a riotous blend of plants.
Tell us a little about your family and your garden.
Mr Chiots and I bought our home nine years ago. When we arrived the gardens were in terrible shape. The previous two owners had never added any organic material and had only used chemicals and insecticides. The gardens were pretty much devoid of life, except for a few shrubs and some weeds. We spent the first four years adding chicken manure, good mulch, leaves, compost, and any organic matter we could get our hands on. We started small, working with the front foundation beds first, then slowly adding more and more garden space. After nine years the soil in the front foundation beds is finally looking better, dark and crumbly instead of dry, rocky, and sandy.
The insects returned in force and we see all kinds of solitary bees, ladybugs, wasps, and all sorts of interesting things. The birds are also back, enjoying all the insects and spiders. We've also focused on building the biodiversity in our gardens, adding many kinds of native plants that produce pollen and nectar. We also added a small pond and allowed a few areas to naturalize.
Our soil is so bad I added raised beds in the back garden for growing vegetables. This area used to be a driveway and a parking area for a big RV when the previous owners lived here. It's now lush with cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, and asparagus.
What inspired you to start a garden? Did you grow up with one?
My parents were always avid gardeners. We had a large edible garden in which we grew most of our own food and a small ornamental garden area. When I was in high school my parents built a house with a nice large garden. They have huge gardens filled with all sorts of native plants like milkweed, joe-pye weed, and more.
I never particularly loved gardening growing up. My mom let me choose annuals at the greenhouse and a few interesting vegetables to grow, but I always disliked the weeding and work that came with gardening. The older I got the more I appreciated it. Perhaps it came from living in an apartment for six years. I learned the joy that a little plot of earth can bring.
Here at Chiot's Run we strive to be beyond organic by not interfering with nature in any way, not even with "organic" chemicals. We simply let nature run it's course. We occasionally lose a crop of something, but the longer we garden this way, the healthier we notice our little ecosystem is and the less trouble we have with "pests."
Your garden is organic. Why is this important to you?
I could categorize our garden as beyond organic. We pretty much let our gardens be. We focus on feeding the soil with compost, leaf mold, humus, and manures. We allow the insects to come as they may and never use sprays, even organic ones. I believe that if we spray to kill "bad" insects we may in turn be upsetting the balance.
I occasionally lose a crop of broccoli, or a rose to aphids, but the longer we refrain from using any sprays, the more we notice the garden balancing itself out. If you really watch the cycle in the garden you'll be amazed at the necessity of even bad insects. For example: One year I noticed that my broccoli was being consumed by cabbage loopers. I was sure I was going to lose the crop, there was barely a leaf left on the plants. As soon as the population reached its highest levels, the wren babies hatched out and the parents went to work gathering all the worms for their young. If I had used Diatomaceous earth or another organic treatment, the wren babies may not have had enough food to grow up strong. As humans, I believe we don't understand the delicate balance of nature and what we see as a problem may often be a necessity and by trying to solve "problems" we often upset that delicate balance.
Although I grow a lot of edible plants in my garden, I also love to add a few little details. This window planting was to showcase my collection of pots and my love of begonias.
What are some easy ways to include children in the day-to-day aspects of keeping a garden?
We don't have any children of our own, but we have three nieces and nephew. They live an hour away, so they don't come here often, but we often meet up at my parents' house. My parents have a wonderful garden that encourages them to love nature. They have a large pond and a small pond filled with frogs and fish. The kids love taking walks around my parents' gardens looking at everything there is to enjoy. They also love picking raspberries and blueberries and all the wonderful edible things my parents have scattered throughout their gardens. I try to buy them little gardening gloves and things for them to use in the garden.
My rain barrel system is one of my favorite DIY features in my garden. I can collect 385 gallons of rain water in them and they're hooked up to a pump so I can use a sprinkler with the system or simply fill watering cans from a spigot.
Tell us about a DIY garden project you have taken on recently and love.
One of the best DIY projects we've done in/for our garden was installing a rain barrel system. We bought seven 55-gallon food grade plastic barrels and connected them all together with PVC. They fill and drain at the same time. We made the system so it's easily expandable in the future and added a pump so it can be used with the sprinkler if needed.
It's great knowing that the water I'm using on my garden was saved from the runoff ditch and I love knowing that it's not full of chlorine and other chemicals. Best of all because we didn't buy it pre-made from the store, we saved a bundle. We spent roughly the same amount on our 7-barrel system that it would cost to buy one rain barrel at the store.
I love to garden as inspiration. I love to take photos of all the beautiful things happening in the garden, I find it a wonderful outlet for my creativity.
What one tip would you share with beginner gardeners?
Focus on growing soil not plants. If you focus on growing the soil you'll be reward with beautiful plants.
Hydrangeas are my favorite plant of all. I have 10 varieties or so growing in the gardens. This 'Endless Summer' bloomed beautifully this year.
What's new in your garden this season?
I rarely buy new plants. Most of mine were starts from friends and family. I did just visit Monticello, and I purchased a variegated lemon, key lime, and a fig tree. The citrus will become houseplants and the fig will be overwintered in the basement.
I love to grow some of my own food, it gives me a tremendous sense of freedom and satisfaction knowing that some of what we eat we grow ourselves. I also love knowing exactly what went into my food. It gives me a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes in to producing food.
What garden blogs and books do you love?
I love anything by Eliot Coleman. Winter gardening in my cold climate is something that I really want to learn more about and Eliot Coleman is perhaps the best author on this subject. I read tons of gardening blogs, I think I have 30-40 in my RSS reader.
One of the reasons I love gardening is so that I can grow interesting varieties of edible plants like this 'Yellow Wonder' strawberry.
Why do you garden?
I garden for many reasons. The main reason I garden is because I really enjoy it. It gives me something organic to do in my technology-focused life. I love that it's restful and peaceful. It allows me time to think.
I also garden to grow food and to allow myself the freedom that comes from that. Growing your own food is a wonderfully empowering thing. I love knowing that I can provide for my family and it brings me a deep sense of satisfaction to serve a meal made with homegrown vegetables. I also garden to have beautiful things to photograph. I love taking photos and gardening and blogging gives me the inspiration to do it every single day.
Susy was born and grew up in Colombia, South America, and enjoyed living in a tropical setting for so many years. She now lives in NE Ohio and enjoys experiencing the seasons. She would describe herself as a girl who should have been born many centuries earlier. She enjoys all the old school housewife things like cooking from scratch, sewing, baking, and gardening. She and her husband try to live simply and be content with what they have. They focus on local eating and living sustainably while running a successful home-based business doing videography and website design. They try to run their lives and businesses in a sustainable manner by consuming less and doing without because they know that consuming even "greenly" isn't the best option. They are currently focusing on growing more of their own food and making their little quarter acre on this planet as biodiverse as possible. Susy blogs about gardening and organic living over at Chiot's Run, Not Dabbling in Normal, and The Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op.
All images via Susy/Chiot's Run