Thanks to the island's acidic soil, the hydrangeas on Faial are shockingly bright shades of blue.

By Andrea Beck
February 24, 2020

One bush makes a beautiful addition to your garden, but an entire island of blooming hydrangeas? That’s definitely worth a spot on your bucket list. Faial Island, part of Portugal’s Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, bursts into bloom every summer with thousands of these stunning flowers. Though the other eight islands in the chain are also famous for hydrangeas in all shades, Faial’s unique conditions make it one of the best destinations in the world for brilliant blue blooms. Sometimes called the Blue Island in part because of the sheer number of flowers, Faial’s streets and hillsides are lined with wild hydrangeas.

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Like the other Azores Islands, Faial is a volcanic island, which helps create ideal conditions for growing hydrangeas. The last eruption on Faial lasted for 13 months from 1957 to 1958, temporarily displacing thousands of residents. It also added about 1.5 miles of land to the coast and created extremely fertile, acidic soil across the island.

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Bigleaf hydrangeas can change color depending on the acidity of the soil they’re grown in, and the bluest blooms need acidic soil (with a pH of 5.5 or lower). Alkaline soil (with a pH 6.5 or higher) will produce pink flowers, and neutral soil can produce purple. In many areas, Faial’s soil has a pH between 5.2 and 5.5, and it’s also high in aluminum, both of which help grow some of the brightest blue hydrangeas in the world. As the acidity of the soil changes across the island, so does the vibrant shade of the flowers.

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Peak bloom time for the plants is in late July and early August (so there’s still time to book a plane ticket for later this year!). Just about everywhere you look on the island, you’ll see hydrangeas: They line the roads, fill fields (especially around the Caldeira, a crater left behind by an extinct volcano), and most locals have at least one growing in their gardens.

If you decide to make the trip, you can also visit other islands in the chain, including Terceira, known as the Lilac Island. It also has extremely fertile soil, and while you’ll no doubt see a few hydrangeas there, it earned its name thanks to thousands of lilacs and other light purple wildflowers.

Just like Japan’s wisteria tunnels and Holland's tulip fields, pictures alone don’t completely capture the beauty of Faial in full bloom. Especially if hydrangeas are a must in your garden each year, a trip to Faial to see its thousands of blue flowers is a dream vacation. In the meantime, we’ll rely on photos and our own blue hydrangeas to tide us over.

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