Monday, June 18, 2012

My New Azorean Garden

My new garden.

So, here it is. This is my new garden! I love it. It's not really much of a Permaculture garden. It has concrete paths, a fountain, a pool, and almost no food plants. We are renting our house and this garden from an elderly widow who comes from a well-to-do family. She and her family are very kind people, but it is unlikely they needed to spend time growing their own food, so their garden is much more park-like in design. In fact, this is a very large and very upper class garden for the island. The only neighbor I have seen that has a larger garden happens to be just across the street (at the top left of the photo above). The garden has not been well kept for many years. Only the basic lawn trimming with minimal shrub tending had been done. Many of the plants that had been tended were poorly pruned as well. The photos here were taken after a bunch of trimming and weeding has been done over the last two weeks.

Our pool nestled in the garden.

I'll be honest about the pool... I really don't know what to think of it. It is pretty. My wife and kids will love it during warm days. It is nice. However, it seems rather... extravagant. Pools are a waste of resources. Water, money, time. Chemicals are poured into the water which aren't too healthy for humans or wildlife. Basically, it is a sterile pond. Very unnatural. Makes me have really mixed feelings. Bottom line, it is not mine. We are renting the house, a pool came with it, and I am not getting rid of it. So I will enjoy it while I am here!

Adjacent to the pool and back garden is a very large undeveloped area.

This is one of my favorite parts of our property. I have written many times about having an undeveloped or completly wild area. In Permaculture, this is called Zone 5 (read about Zones 1-5 in this article). We often need to allow one corner of our garden to "go wild" again. But I have a number of acres of completely undeveloped land abutting the back corner of the garden. I've climbed over the fence just once so far, and it is great. The land is about 4-5 feet lower on the other side of the fence, so there is a low canopy that I can walk (a bit hunched as I am 6'3" (190 cm) tall). There are lillies all over the place and birds darting everywhere under there!

Here is what I am calling my "lower garden". It is the part that is closest to the house and really is a few feet lower than the rest of the garden. The dog doesn't seem to be too interested in it. I plan on building some raised beds for annual vegetables in it. It is bordered by bougainvillea in front, a mix of hibiscus and bird-of-paradise on one side and a bunch of small shrubs on the back side. 

Here is the "back garden". We just cleared out a whole lot of overgrowth and put in a fence along the road side (left side in the photo). With our dog, this was necessary. There's a large patch of aloe vera growing here along with a long strip of bird-of-paradise. There are roses and hibiscus and lillies in the back. Along the right side is a hydrangea and a number of yet-to-be-identified shrubs. A single cycad and a poorly tended fig are there as well. This will likely be left mostly lawn for the dog and kids.

This is the fountain area. There is a large variety of flowering bulbs along all edges of this section as well as around the fountain. The fountain itself is in a mild state of disrepair. It is overgrown with water plants. There are quite a few frogs that love this "pond". We are planning on cleaning things up a bit. We'll clear out a good section of the water plants, but not all. I want to keep this somewhat "wild", especially since the fountain pump is broken and is not going to be fixed. I'll likely interplant as many food producing plants in this section as I can get away with without it looking to unkempt.

This is what I am calling the "back garden". The southeast corner of the pool area is overshadowed by a large, sprawling fig tree that is covered with hundreds of immature fruits. I think it is awesome that I planted and tended my fig tree back in Turkey for two years, with no harvest, knowing that someone else would literally eat the fruits of my labor, and now I will do the same with whomever planted this fig tree years ago. Not that I buy into it, but it is very karma-ish. The "back garden" abuts the neighbooring, undeveloped land. There is a large stand of brambles on the fence line that I am pretty sure is the Azorean Blackberry (Rubus hochstetterorum), but I'll have to do a little further investigation on this. I think this would be a great location for a beehive... more on that soon!

This is the view from my back fence. Very natural Azorean coastline. There is small road between the treeline and the rocky beach. The small bay above has a tiny dock where old fishing boats leave most mornings. The land jutting out on the other side of the bay contains pastures and, at the far left, a bird sanctuary. I am planning on heading over there in the next week if I can.

Just on the other side of my house is this view. Looking back inland over the few blocks of the village/town where we live, you can just barely make out the rising hill/ridge that is lost in the low clouds. This is a commonly seen phenomenon. Most of the upper hills or volcanic mountain tops are covered many days or parts of most days in low cloud cover. The clouds in this photo are blocking about half of the pastured hills from view.

Looking directly down from the view in the previous photo, we can see our neighbors backyard. This is what is much more commonly seen in the land surrounding homes here in the Azores. Most people have vegetable gardens. Here is corn, squash, potatoes, and some form of cauliflower or broccoli that is forming seedheads. There is fertile soil here, and I can't wait to start planting in it!


  1. I'm not jealous of the fertile soil (we have plenty of that here in New Zealand!) but I'm SO jealous of all the SPACE you have! We'd love to have a bigger lawn and area to put gardens.

    For now our little box gardens will do. We've taken out lots of flower beds to put veggies! So much more useful.


  2. Looks amazing! How in the world can you afford to live in such cool places?

  3. I am all for mixing flower areas (I'm a perinnial/evergreen lover myself) with food plants. Besides my wonderful raised bed gardens which are currently planted with tomato, bush beans, carrots, shelling peas, rhutabegga, parsnip, collard greens, kale, cucumber, zucchini, potato, winter squash blueberries and raspberries, oh an onions plus herbs... I have started intermixing things like basil, blueberries, artichOke and asperigus in with my front yard perrinnials. As a kid, I hated weeding and gardening but now I'm hooked. I'd love to see some stuff about cold frames and winter gardening here. That will be my next adventure. I'd also love to see more about natural soil fertilizing and crop rotation. I was sorry to read on your wife's blog you won't be headed to whidby, it is a truly amazing place, my best friend lives in oak harbor, her husband flies the prowler for the navy. I live outside of Portland Oregon on 2 acres I am slowly turning into a gardening paradise.

  4. a solid plus one to the prievous post.

    Your new space looks great so far, that is a property with some serious potential!
    having some existing formal areas(can give your future design a nice backbone)and a water feture is a serious boon(frogs,and dragonflys having a place to live/spawn means serious free pest control.
    finding ways to balance most peoples visual aesthetic of ornamental gardening and home perennial food production can be quite challenging and extremly rewarding.
    i moved into my home 2 years ago nowand am just starting to make it balance. (have been a gardner/landscaper for almost 20years)
    p.s jealous of the mature fig tree.

  5. Talia - great to hear from you. I still never heard how you ended up in New Zealand!

    Anonymous - being in the military gives me the "opportunity" to live around the world.

    A Family Affair - I would love to visit (and eat from) your garden!

    Vinny - We are really excited about being here. I totally agree with you. We will keep some formal areas but will be incorporating more food plants for sure. I love the fountain (really just a concrete pond now). We'll clean it up a bit, but keep the water plants in a good chunk of it. Also looking forward to the figs later this year!


  6. We ended up in New Zealand because my husband is from here! We met in Canada while living abroad. We decided to settle in New Zealand because it was easier for me to immigrate here than for Phil to immigrate to the US. I think we'll move back one day though! We were just in a hurry to be together in the same place. :)


  7. If you ever find yourself in the northwest, please stop by. I bet you would have some great suggestions for more things to grow/do with my land. I am so glad I found your blog, it is super helpful at times. Random trivia, I found your blog thru your wife's blog which I found thru Kristen Y's who I have known since I was 6 (and Brandon since high school) and one of my husbands best friends is best friends with Brandon. Anyway, small world, crazy connections.

    Keep up the good work! I am such an ameture and love to have a place to read about plants ect. I am a fully organic gardener and love knowing that I can use everyday items to protect and nurish my garden (like coffee grounds!) I recently learned that to have great squash and zucchini harvests, keep cosmo's close by bring the bees in...who knew?

    Random thought here, I have my 9 month old "helper" - he eats the dirt sometimes...hopefully it's not harmful...

  8. Hi! I live in Portugal, mainland and recently saw something amazing - - not sure if you can apply this in your case but its worth taking a look :)

  9. What a huge garden you have, John! Looking at the bird’s eye view shot, the place seems to be well maintained and taken care of. I guess your landlord is into gardening as well. But I think the fountain needs to be cleaned and repaired. I’m sure that once it is restored, it will add a beautiful touch to your garden. In regards to the swimming pool, you can still maintain it by regular cleaning. This would help you to conserve water for the pool.

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