Robin Pollard and her partner, Chris Camarda of Andrew Will Winery, plan and plant productive, colorful gardens where everything just flows.
ROBIN POLLARD moved out to her partner’s Vashon Island property eight years ago and started planting immediately.
“I was still working at the Washington State Wine Commission when I moved out here, so I didn’t have as much time, and I also kind of approached it slowly and thoughtfully because I wanted to respect what was here,” she says.
Pollard shares the house and gardens with Chris Camarda, winemaker and owner of Andrew Will Winery, which is located on the property, along with his family, which has a penchant for gathering around good food and wine.
“I want to give back to all that has been given to me,” says Pollard, who has joined this family — and its home, and its land, where they all live and work in a fluid dance of moving people and projects.
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The most impressive thing about Pollard’s plantings is that across the 5-acre space, she has created a wide variety of gardens and themes, doing the bulk of the work and planning on her own. It helps, of course, that she has a master’s degree in agriculture, but truly it’s her unstoppable drive that keeps momentum high and a multitude of garden beds in bloom.
Within a fenced garden, she seeds full rows of produce — eggplant, tomato, peppers, beans, lettuces and more — while a quarter of the space is reserved for dahlia blooms. The garden supplies all of the food for the family, and more, throughout the year.
“I make jars of pickled beans or chutneys, and then we pack extra into gift boxes,” says Pollard. Each year, she grows close to 300 pounds of tomatoes for Camarda’s Italian family, “And we make salsa [and] marinara sauce, and can whole tomatoes.”
All of this planting, tending and production keeps Pollard very busy. It also helps explain why so much space is dedicated to dahlia blooms — she grows about two dozen varieties. “To me, the (fenced) garden means toiling in the soil and harvesting — there is always something (to do) workwise in the garden,” says Pollard. “When it comes to the dahlias, I can look over to the left, and all I have to do is cut them, take them into the house and enjoy the beautiful bouquet.”
Elsewhere on the property, she combines plant know-how with an eye for color. A large production facility and barrel-storage building sit at the back of the property, hugging the tree line, at the top of a gentle slope. Here, to hold in the earth, she planted two German varietals of white grapevines, along with flowering ground cover and rock roses. These are multifunctional plantings — they keep grasses down, add softness to an otherwise industrial-looking building and help mitigate water runoff from wine production.
Just behind the main house is a long yard of thick lawn. When he built the home in the mid-1990s, Camarda planted an orchard with cherry, apple, Asian pear and peach trees. Pollard dehydrates and preserves the fruit each year, and recently added a hazelnut tree to the small grove.
In front of the orchard, a chicken coop sits in plain view of the home, so Pollard surrounds it with colorful blooms.
“I tried planting hop vines up the fence in front of them, but they love to eat hops, so that didn’t work out so well,” she says. She opts for perennials here, leaving this space to take care of itself. Hollyhocks, peonies, a mix of herbs and vining clematis all hug the fence and give the hens some privacy. On the other side of the coop, Pollard has rhubarb and potatoes. “I know the deer won’t eat the rhubarb, so why take up garden space when I can put them right there?”
This sort of practicality shows as you walk across the property from the front yard (a woodland zone where Pollard has added maples, rhododendrons and dogwoods among the existing ferns and cedars) to the back patio — a spalike area complete with poured cement floors, an in-ground hot tub, and container plantings like bamboo and an olive tree. The few small garden beds hold hellebores and peonies — both will come back year after year, need very little attention and bloom at various points across the calendar.
Pollard prefers when things do not look too manicured.
“I’m thinking about the flow of our property and creating interest,” she says. “I also love plants that have a wow factor — with interesting foliage or interesting blooms.”
She opts for perennial plants that are conducive to our area, and considers their long-term appeal before planting. “(I want) things that are going to look natural and not out of place,” she says.