In a previous life, Rhoda Chute spent long days chained to a desk as an electromechanical drafter.
“I took some classes in ornamental horticulture and that was it — I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Chute, who eventually obtained a degree in crop science from Cal Poly.
Earlier this year, Chute realized a longstanding dream to run her own nursery when she opened Fat Cat Farm in Paso Robles. The farm and the adjacent Lone Madrone tasting room both occupy the site of the former Sycamore Herb Farm, which was destroyed in a fire in 2004. Although the gardens were not damaged by the fire, they suffered from neglect in the years since Sycamore closed.
Around four years ago, Chute worked briefly for Lone Madrone and, during that time, began the laborious process of restoring the gardens. In March of this year, Lone Madrone asked Chute if she would like to buy the nursery business.
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“The infrastructure was all here,” she said. “I’m just trying to bring it back to its former glory, plus add my own twist to it.”
Her “twist” is adding drought tolerant perennials and annuals as well as heirloom vegetables to the selection of herbs that the farm became known for. Because Chute opened the nursery in May, well into this year’s growing season, many of her plans are on hold until next spring. Currently, she is offering a nice selection of herbs from local growers. Next year, she hopes to grow most of her own stock and vastly expand the selection.
Fat Cat Farm currently offers common herbs, including about a dozen varieties of lavender, six edible oreganos and four ornamental oreganos. You’ll also find a few less common plants such as Vietnamese cilantro, cardamom and tarragon.
Chute is starting seeds now for fall perennial herbs, as well as old-fashioned flowers such as borage and calendula. Over the winter, she hopes to propagate plants like mad to have a bounty of plant material by spring.
The nursery currently has a selection of garden art and gift items on tables and benches outside. During the winter months, these items, along with plants, will mostly likely be housed in one of the nursery’s greenhouses. Chute plans to greatly add to her line of garden and gift items, but already offers items like birdhouses, wind chimes, as well as locally-made items like metal signs by Paso Robles artisan Gary Graham.
Other future plans include bringing back features made popular by Sycamore Farms including a summer Basil Festival and classes on a diversity of subjects from cooking to composting. She also hopes to sell dried and cut fresh flowers.
Until then, Chute encourages late summer guests to check out the stock for fall planting, visit the goats and chickens, stroll through the inspiration gardens, and simply enjoy the ambience of the farm.
“Come out, bring a picnic, enjoy the gardens and the wine,” she said. “It’s a really special place to be.”
Fat Cat Farm is located at 2485 Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, (805) 239-0743.