Lessons which move you forward in your work sometimes come from unexpected, and unrelated, places.

Mauve rose blooms against a blue and white cloud sky

In the last year I’ve made my first serious (and ongoing) effort at gardening. My aim has been to create somewhere ‘pleasant and productive’, taking an informal cottage garden approach and focusing on observing, being in the space, and letting everything flow (or grow, I guess).

I’m fortunate to have a reasonable amount of outdoor space and I’ve been extra grateful for it as I’ve worked through A Terrible Year full of endings.

Much of what the garden has taught me has been relevant to processing my grief and starting to move forward. At some point I realised the lessons applied to working life too, and aligned with my approach to leadership.

Here’s 7 lessons I’ve picked up in the garden this year.

Lesson 1: It’s all learning

As a recovering perfectionist I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of seeing everything I do in the garden as an experiment. The aim is to observe, learn, ask questions and research, then improve next time.

This is actually much more satisfying than hitting perfection straight away but not taking the time to analyse that success in the same way you would a (perceived) failure. Giving myself permission to get things wrong and not enforce my own preferred timings has been liberating – challenging but liberating.

Lesson: We should spend as much time at work looking at how we succeeded as we do how we missed the mark – we can learn something valuable from either outcome. Progress delivers as much, or more, than immediate perfection.

Lesson 2: Create the right conditions

Even in poor conditions (wrong soil type, too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot) most plants will give it a good go and try to produce something. You’re just likely to be under-whelmed with the result and the plant will likely be exhausted.

But give it the right conditions and it will romp away, and you’ll be rewarded with healthy plants which deliver above and beyond.

Lesson: How we set people up at work – we might not always be able to give them their ideal conditions, but usually we can do pretty well to meet needs. And when we do the rewards follow for all.

Lesson 3: Be patient, growth is happening

I’ve made attempts at gardening before and given up because I wasn’t good at delayed gratification. My garden has been the greatest teacher of patience, and planning to be patient, I could ever have had.

My approach now is staggered, so rather than put all my attention on one thing at a time, I set it off and turn my focus on to something else. Perhaps obvious to everyone else but for me it’s been amazing to see this has led to many brilliant results instead of a single success, and because there was lots to do all the time I didn’t even notice I was being patient.

Lesson: the journey is the destination, and there’s always something to see or do as you make your way along. You can’t always force it, some things just take time. You might not be able to see it, but growth is happening.

Lesson 4: Hope without expectation

Planting seeds used to be my most frustrating experience. I wanted the result without any of the work, or the trust. Now, I love it.

I pop those seeds into the dark, with the hope they will grow, but I know better now than to set myself up for disappointment if they don’t. Or they do it slower than the packet said. Or they turn out to be a totally different plant than I thought.

Lesson: focus on the outcome (what you learned, how you changed, the all-round impact), rather than the only the output (prize-winning produce).

Lesson 5: Consistency over intensity

One day of intensive gardening preceded and followed by no effort, won’t give you as good a result as if you spend a few minutes out there everyday.

An initial intensive burst might be needed to get you going but it’s the consistency which will keep you growing.

Lesson: nurturing something to survive, to thrive and grow might be less glamorous (and sometimes less exciting) but is as important as starting (or launching) the thing.

Lesson 6: Measure your yield

A hand holds a colander filled with courgettes, while behind lots of green plants grow up different garden canes and arched

Whether you managed a single small pea pod, or a glut of 5kg of courgettes in a single day, measuring helps you know whether you have effected change over time, and are closer to whatever your idea of success looks like.

Deciding what to measure upfront helps you understand and communicate your aims too. Am I looking to win first place in the County Show, or only to keep something alive? Do I measure slugs (or bugs) found and removed, or the degree of satisfaction my kids (and dog) get from eating fruit straight from the plant? All valid, all part of the story you are telling yourself and others.

Lesson: measurement is part of learning, adapting and doing better in the future.

Lesson 7: Lean in to each season

Each season in nature has its time and a role to play in supporting the overall results. You can’t always be at harvest time, if you haven’t also allowed for creativity, growth, and rest.

Welcome each of the seasons and plan your activity to make the most of the time if you want to get amazing and consistent results. Let your plan have movement though – sometimes seasons arrive a little earlier or later than expected, or don’t act how we thought they would. You can adapt, you can handle a little chaos, and still get to where you wanted in the end.

Lesson: your best will look different every day, and be kind to yourself for rest is a vital part of being productive.

Bonus lesson

Enjoy the garden, as much as you work the garden. This also applies to anything else to which you give your time, effort and attention.


If anyone else is growing I’d love to hear from you and swap tips on fruit, veg, flowers, and foraging. Drop me a comment and I’ll try to remember to keep an eye out, or contact me in one of these places or through one of the places I share this post.