From Summer to Fall

Salvia, lemon verbena, thyme, Mexican sunflower, marigold, sage, catmint . . .

This summer, I planted my first vegetable garden.

I have ten raised beds of vegetables and herbs on my little half-acre homestead, all green, lush, and thriving. Out of all the vegetables we planted, only one failed to grow properly: the fennel. Luckily we only had two bulbs; I might have cried if we’d planted an entire bed, only to have all of them fail. Their stems stood tall and their fronds grew out of control — incredibly bushy — but their bulbs never enlarged, never grew into the things that I recognize from the grocery store.

But I realized that’s okay. This season was the first time I’d planted any vegetable in my entire life, and for nearly all of them to flourish? That’s amazing. I thank the continuously sunny weather here in West Sonoma County, the water, the soil. Oh, and the magic fungi, Mykos mycorrhizae, which I believe is the secret to our bounty.

People see the garden and assume I have a green thumb. They think I’m a gardener, a farmer. I’ve kept a few succulents, a basil plant, and a pot of mint in my life. That’s it. So I’m not really sure where this green thumb came from, or perhaps I had it all along, and I just never had the opportunity — nor the land — to exercise it.

It’s a neat feeling: to be successful at something new. Routine, perhaps apathy, can take over me for long periods of time, and I suppose that’s the case for many people. And I very much welcome the hobbies I’ve taken on the past few years that do not require a laptop — gardening, cooking, taiko drumming, exercising. It has led to a shift away from blogging and writing, which in some ways is unfortunate, but it has opened up new opportunities to learn and find satisfaction. Because while my job requires me to be online, there’s a hard line there — if I’m not working, I don’t want to be in front of a computer at all.

Mexican sunflowers (tithonia). Butterflies love these!

This Monday, October 2, marks the beginning of my sabbatical — a three-month period of paid time off from work at Automattic. It’s an incredibly generous perk we receive at our five-year anniversary — a milestone I can’t believe I’ve reached. Before this job, I was a freelance writer and editor since I’d graduated from college, mixing editorial contracts with part-time work as an magazine editorial assistant, or teaching assistant, or marketing proofreader. I always wanted options, I dabbled in lots of things, I liked the variety in my schedule, and I didn’t want to commit. I also needed to be able to take off and travel for long periods of time. That was my priority. So it’s weird to say I’ve been with the same company for five years.

I have a list of things I plan to do, or would like to do, during these three months. This period of time is truly a dream for my former self, who would have already booked a string of flights. Interestingly, most of the items on my sabbatical to do list do not include hopping on a plane. I’ll head to New York soon on a short trip to see friends and also hope to explore more of California, but I’m even more excited to have uninterrupted time in my garden.

I’ve certainly changed.

We threw our first harvest party at our home last weekend, which was a success, and some of the vegetables — the zucchinis, squash, broccolini, French baby bush beans, mesclun and little gem lettuce — are on their way out. Here are some photos of what our August and September looked like. I was happy not to buy produce at the grocery store at all, and even happier to deliver baskets of goodies to neighbors and family members.

The dwarf kale that keeps on giving, delicious Nickel Filet French baby bush beans, a Mexican sunflower, and lots of Italian flat leaf parsley.
Echinacea, which only recently started to take off, and salvia, which I’ve only used in small bouquets so far. Tips on what to do with it?
Tall, wiry zinnias and our tiny house in the background, overlooking the garden.
Confession: while I love the way pattypan squash looks, I’m not really a fan of growing or cooking with it. We’ll likely not plant this again.
So. Much. Chard. This was taken a few days ago—all of our chard is still going strong.
Red Russian kale leaves, heads of Napa cabbage that Nick has used for sauerkraut and kimchee, my beloved leeks, and a view of our garden shed.
Taken in mid-September, when suddenly everything was lush. There are Mexican sunflowers, Napa cabbage, and Vietnamese coriander in the foreground, peppers off to the right, and tomatoes in the rear.
Our four tomato plants aren’t ready yet—like the peppers, they’re the last plants left to be harvested. The tomatoes may be getting too much water; we’re told if we stress them a bit, they’ll ripen.
A photo from late August when the zucchini bed on the right was going crazy. Our shed was just built and I hadn’t stained the siding yet.
Beets, baby bush beans, Persian cucumbers, and pineapple sage.
King of the North bell peppers, huge zucchinis with beets on our front porch, teardrop-shaped Biquinho peppers (soon to be red), and green onions (scallions).
Our finished garden shed. I’d painted the door and windows a milky, chalky yellow, which was a mistake—you can’t see it! I’ll repaint it a shade of sage green, I think.
I really enjoyed this little gem lettuce for my salads. It has since bolted and the leaves are now too bitter on their own, but good to add to a burger.
An early September harvest that we brought to a family gathering in Napa.
The view of the garden from our front porch. It’s been hot the past few weeks, but it also finally feels like fall.

I recently went to the nursery to scout the next rotation. Looking forward to planting more!

Follow me on Instagram @cherilucasrowlands.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

23 thoughts on “From Summer to Fall

  1. You’ve done wonderfully well – if anyone has a better claim to be a gardener, I’d like to see it. My sweetheart draws smiley faces on tomatoes that fail to ripen. It makes him feel better when he sees them.

  2. I have had a garden every year of my life { eleven years now} and that is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen!! great job and I cant wait to see more posts!!!

  3. You can be proud very proud of your work, even if you got some help. I love the idea of a bounty celebration and the baskets for neighbors and family.
    My father grew a big garden in our backyard when I was a kid and I could even have my own small patch as long I took care of it myself. Which I loved to do. With only he and my mom my dad started to give away anything they couldn’t eat. So my dad would bike every morning with a huge basket filled with the produce of his garden and he would give them away. When he passed away a few years ago I flew to France and was very moved when people I had never met told me about this. They all said they would miss his early morning free deliveries. I detected genuine affection. So I am sure your baskets are also making a difference.
    Enjoy the bounty and the three next months!

  4. Well done.
    Gardening is for the soul, from the soul.
    I hope your stomach enjoys the harvest more than your fingers and back did.
    Keep on at it regardless, it’s a part of who we Humans are.

  5. You are such a delight to read. Your pics are so matching and fabulous. Thanks for sharing and have a blast during your sabbatical, and congrats on 5 years!!!

  6. Sounds like you started working at Automattic around the same time that I started my blog – I just had my 5 year blogaversery. Maybe I should take a 3 month sabbatical too! Your garden looks soooo yummy. You’ll be ready for the coming apocalypse… sorry, I just caught up on 7 season of The Walking Dead, and 2 1/2 seasons of Fear the Walking Dead, in a month and a half. That combined with daily Trump garbage has me seeing the world in a different light. Enjoy the time off.

  7. There is much truth to those who have a green thumb, some hidden talent. I’m, unfortunately, the opposite which is probably why I had to leave my small agricultural hometown ~ otherwise, they would have had to kick me out 🙂 Your photos show a little oasis in life, special. And now with a three-month sabbatical ahead, fantastic…and yes, I’m a bit jealous as I’m sure everyone is. But it is also inspirations, gets me thinking just what I would do if I have those three months 🙂 Cheers, and happy trails ahead!

  8. The harvest is proof of the gardeners’ dedication so high 5 to you both for the behind the scenes pottering, tending and weeding that brought such a harvest. We’re on our way home from 3 months’ sabbatical (we call it long service leave and only after 10 years). Enjoy your time away from work and laptop 😊 Linda

  9. I’m on sabbatical too this year (but a self granted millennial sabbatical 😁). I’ve turned to the computer and internet in this time, since I’ve decided to start a blog, but also looking to find activities that take me away from the screen. Good luck with your garden and happy sabbatical!

  10. Wow I like your garden you did a great job growing all the vegetables so kudos to you!!!! your friend billy

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