Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Lovefest in the Azores

"Let's all go to the Azores," Maggie suggested way back in 2018. I'd never heard of this Portuguese archipelago of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but, if it meant that our family could all be together, I was all over it. 

Turns out, the Azores are almost exactly half way between the east coast of the U.S., where Mary and Brian live, and Berlin, where Jack and Kasia live – only a 4.5 hour flight from both directions. Everyone raised their hands when we proposed a family vacation. And so the planning began. We were all going to the Azores for a week in mid-April 2020.  

We found a large modern house on São Miguel, the chief Azorean island. We booked airline flights and Hazel got her first passport. 

And then the month before our trip, Covid shut all travel down. We were not going to the Azores after all. 

For the next 18 months, we felt like we were in a perpetual state of quarantine. No travel to foreign destinations; no family reunions; and a great longing to be together. 

Toward the end of this past summer, with Covid rates down, we again imagined this trip. The original house was no longer being rented, a new person (Norbert) had joined our family and would need a passport, and schedules would need to be coordinated. Somehow we worked it out and booked our trip for October, 2021. 

I held my breath; trying hard not to get too excited about a trip that might not happen. But happen it did. 

On October 7, eight of the Galloway clan flew to Boston and then on to São Miguel, and two flew from Berlin -- meeting up at the small island airport early the next morning. After piling our luggage and ten  tall people into two small cars, we drove on narrow roads lined with thousands of hydrangeas to Sete Cidades, a charming village located on the west end of the island in the center of a massive volcanic crater.  Our house for the week was Casa Grande and it lived up to its name. Built in 1853, it has six bedrooms and is situated at the end of the slender strip of land that separates two colorful lakes, a 10-minute walk from a playground and the village. The house was surrounded by beautiful gardens.

The week flew by. It was filled with do-able hikes with two small children, swimming in thermal pools set among botanical gardens or salt-water seas protected by rock barriers, biking the mountainous countryside, eating platters of fresh seafood, touring pineapple and tea plantations, and exploring caves on the property of the house. But the best parts, at least for me, were seeing Hazel's enthusiasm over her first bus, train and airplane rides, a home-cooked birthday dinner for Brian, late-night card games, playing foxes in a blanket-covered den, sock puppet shows, morning snuggles, cocktails in the garden and some quality grandparenting afternoons back at the house. 

Being together as a family, after a hiatus of almost three years, was like one big lovefest. Hazel and Norbert had eight adults vying for the chance to play with them; our kids and their partners enjoyed some great outdoor adventures while Ed and I happily manned the fort back at the house with Norbert and Hazel. Our meals were full of delicious food and great conversation. Laughter abounded. It was an amazing week and I'm still pinching myself that we were able to pull it off.  

Logistics and highlights

SATA/Azores Airline: We flew out of Boston on the only airline that flies from the U.S. to the Azores. It leaves late in the evening, arriving early the next morning. Pretty low frills. On the way home, we didn't leave São Miguel until 6 p.m, arriving in Boston about 8 p.m., too late for a connecting flight. We stayed at a Marriott Hotel at the airport to make a 7 a.m. flight back to Cincinnati. 

Restaurants in Sete Cidades: The tiny town features four restaurants; one is a tea house and two are versions of a snack bar: Sao Nicolau and The Green Love Restaurant. Only one is a full restaurant:  Lagoa Azul. We liked them all. From the tea house, O Poejo, we purchased a very delicious carrot cake that served as Brian's birthday cake. 

Restaurants in Ponta Delgada: We had two very good seafood lunches in the capital city of Ponta Delgada, only about 30 minutes from our village. Restaurant TiXico and Cais 20


São Miguel is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I hope to go back someday soon. I leave you with some photos of our week together.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Feeling garden-giddy

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.  But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass 

Our efforts to appreciate and enhance nature at Farm Dover go all the way back to our first season here when Ed had the vison to take all the cropped fields out of production and return them to native grasses and wildflowers. No more corn; no more soybeans. Instead we planted native seeds in the open meadows and began to intentionally tend to field and forest, making them healthier for all who make their home here. This work of tending to our land – so satisfying – gives structure and purpose to our days and fills us with joy. 

Over the years we added walking paths around the meadows and through the woods. Year round we work to keep the invasive plants at bay and native ones thriving. Shortly after we moved to the country, we became landlords to Maggie's beehives and got interested in creating native gardens so her honey bees could find a ready source of pollen.

In 2016, with help from Margaret Shea of  Dropseed Native Plant Nursery, we planted our first bee garden, which really was just a flower-rich extension of the front meadow.

As the garden grew, we divided plants from it and moved them to the periphery of the meadows surrounding the house, adding color, structure and texture to the edges. 

Once we got going, it was hard to stop. Recently,  I've been feeling garden-giddy and compelled to create another garden. This time, I didn't choose the spot; it was chosen for me... 

Last year, we ordered a dump truck full of natural hardwood mulch from Natural Products, located in nearby LaGrange. The driver did not want to get off our gravel drive and would need to dump the eight cubic yards (small mountain) somewhere near the driveway's edge. We picked a spot in the tall meadow grasses between the original bee garden and orchard and hastily pinned down a tarp. With amazing accuracy, he dumped the entire load in the center of the tarp. 

It took us nearly a year to whittle down the pile, using it on all our gardens and around the planted bushes and trees. Once the pile was nearly gone, I peeked under the tarp to find a perfectly bare 12'x16' plot. It was like striking gold. We don't like to spray with herbicides, and to dig up an area this size in meadow grasses is no easy task. Our good luck: no need to spray or dig! We simply slid the tarp over to the next section of meadow and called for another load of mulch. I then put layers of newspaper down on the bare earth and spread three inches of mulch over it all. It was ready for planting.

I love dividing and moving perennials in the fall; it feels like shopping in my own backyard for free plants. Between our meadows and bee gardens, we have lots to chose from. We began by digging up some very tall ironweed from our fields and planting them in the back of the new space, adding some tall joe pye weed right next to the ironweed. Then I realized that I needed to give some thought to what to plant next. Seems I needed some inspiration...

Two weeks ago, my friend Pat Greer opened up her amazing gardens as part of Shelby County Co-op Extension's Good Neighbors Farm Tour. The day before the tour, I stopped by to drop off a large arrangement of compass flowers to welcome the visitors. Pat insisted on giving me a private tour of her nearly six acres of gardens. Regarding native plants, Pat has more passion, knowledge and energy than anyone I know. I came away with a wheelbarrow load of ideas that I wanted to try. 

The second source of inspiration came from our recent weekend in Chicago, where we roamed the Lurie Garden, a three-acre botanical garden at Millennium Park designed by renowned Dutch garden and landscape designer, Piet Oudolf. (He also designed NYC's High Line.) The naturalistic plantings were stunning.

Not only are Oudolf's landscapes amazing works of art, but his painterly design sketches I'd gladly frame and hang on our walls. I find his shapes and circles "groovy."

So taking page from Piet Oudolf, I pulled out Uncle Eddie's 50-year-old box of Prismacolor pencils and set to work, creating my own groovy garden plan. 

The new garden is now fully planted. It looks a bit sparse, only because we cut off most of the foliage so the transplants can concentrate on putting down good roots. The plants will spread, hopefully covering every square inch of the garden, blocking out weeds. 

The privilege of working in this new garden this week is not lost on me. I find gratification in the process and peace and pleasure in every step along the way. 

It will be next spring before I can discover if the garden design is pleasing. If not, I'll simply move the plants on to another spot and fill in with plants from elsewhere on Farm Dover. It's a never-ending cycle; one that transforms the bounties of this place and, along the way, transforms this gardener too.