Saturday, September 6, 2014


Every year I think, I should plant a garden. Sometimes I do.

Here's the thing - it's a lot of work to plant a garden. To rouse myself to it, to buy the stuff, do the muddy digging and sweaty labour of preparing the soil, planning the design, planting the plants and seeds - my mind's executive team needs a lot of convincing to approve that particular project. My spirit and body need a lot of convincing to actually engage it.

But this year, I did. And I found it hard. Digging weeds with sweat pouring down into my eyes and bugs buzzing around my fragrant head. After awhile I cut corners. I got sloppy, cutting down weeds willy nilly, raking their seeds back into the soil. I let the design slip, let my estimates replace a good measuring, planted shallow or deep or too close together. But in the end, there was a garden, and it was pretty good. I felt fairly proud. I looked forward to fresh tomatoes. I promised myself I wouldn't let it get overgrown.

When the first weeds popped up, they looked manageable. I thought, I'll pull them tomorrow. Every day I thought that. But I didn't. Soon they were taller than the plants. I vaguely worried that I wouldn't be able to tell plants from weeds soon. But life gets busy and weeding is never the priority. Or I was tired or I was creating or I just didn't feel like it. After awhile, the weeds ecliplsed the plants.

Potential on the Vine (2014)
Then vacation - 2 weeks away and not one thought of that garden. I come back to a garden of weeds. There must be some tomato and cauliflower in there, some cucumbers? But no. The tomato plants can't get enough nutrients to do more than make the tomato - it rots on the vine before ripening, or splits under bird beak or infests with bugs thriving in this amazing ecosystem. Bugs so happy and surprised to find so much ripeness waiting among the weeds.

Sometimes I spy a little red and pluck a small tomato before the bugs and weeds take its life. The fresh life juices fill my mouth and I remember why I wanted a garden. I feel bad that I didn't care for it. I wish I could have its full bounty. I apologize to the plants that I didn't create an environment for them to thrive. I hunt and peck and pick a random tomato every few days. Nothing else survived.

Isn't this like so many business projects, and in fact, like the very social structures we create? We know we want a good garden. It's a big job to convince the executives and get the team assembled and motivated. But we know it's important, so we do it, and we get going, and we plant the garden as best we can with the resources at our disposal, under the glaring sun, in whatever conditions exist. And it's pretty good. We feel fairly proud.

Overgrown (2014)
But then the project is under-funded. We get pulled in other directions. It loses support from the executive focused on the big picture and the workers on the ground who are pushed with other priorities. The weeds crop up, and we see them, but we fool ourselves into thinking it will be manageable, when we get some time to manage them. The next thing we know, the space we created to grow something amazing is completely overgrown with weeds that suck the life out and use up that nourishing fertilizer we bought to propagate their own agendas. It's unmanageable - we'd be better off to clear the whole thing and try again next year than try to salvage it. And when someone suggests a garden next year, we'll think back and remember that it didn't work, last time.

What's the moral of the story? When we plant a garden, any kind, we pick how productive it is by how we prioritize and resource its maintenance. And if no one loves that garden enough, or cares, or believes enough in the outcome, to deal with the weeds every single day, there's not much point in planting it in the first place. Plucking the scarce fruits of an unkept garden investment feels wasteful.

Ripe Not Ready (2014)