Island Pastoral

Vegetables, ornamentals, and a farmyard menagerie add up to a labor of love for a Pacific Northwest gardener.

By Valerie Easton

Photography by John Granen


As befits a farm with European flair, the Collinses grow fruit as well as vegetables. Deer and birds plunder most of the fruit off the old trees in the little orchard. But inside the fence line, Shirley recently planted columnar apple trees that are already covered in fruit. She's espaliered apple and pear trees against the house, and also grows multigrafted espalier pears inside the fenced vegetable garden. "I just wish we could think of a humane way to beat the birds to the blueberries, but so far we lose," says Shirley. The couple do score a good harvest off their red and black currants, since they prove too sour even for the opportunistic cedar waxwings, which concentrate on eating the sweeter blueberries instead.

Food and flowers harmonize in the ground just as Shirley and Alf have learned to coexist with the wildlife on their little farmstead. Raised beds are accented with sweet peas and nasturtiums while food plants enrich the borders on this property where the line between ornamental and edible is delightfully blurred.

Edible Elegance
Some favorite herbs, fruit, and vegetables Shirley Collins grows for beauty as well as food:

Rhubarb. "First up in the spring and so delicious. I grow lots so I can spare some to poach and still have its presence in the borders."

Corn. Even if corn doesn't always ripen in the Northwest, Shirley grows it in the borders for its height and shape.

Shiso (Perilla), a.k.a. Japanese basil. The olive-and wine-colored leaves of this mint relative earn it a spot at the front of the border. Be warned: It is a rampant self-seeder.

Artichokes and cardoons. "I love the shape of artichokes and cardoons, and since both take a lot of cooking preparation, I plant some to eat and the rest for their wonderful structure."

Borage. "I grow lots of borage in the front of all the borders because the deer seem to stay clear of it, which is so useful." And the flower is a pretty, edible garnish.

Lovage and purple fennel. Shirley grows great stands of these through the borders for drama.

Squashes and pumpkins. She grows these in the raised beds and borders for their late, showy fruit as well as the cascade of huge leaves.

Parsley. "You can never have too much flatleaf Italian parsley, in the garden or in the kitchen."

Pineapple sage. "A wonderful, fragrant plant, with late red flowers that are favorites with birds."