Day 19: On Gardening, Giving Up, & Growth

I have a dead Calla lily on my desk at work.

Patrick and I were at Safeway one day picking up sandwiches for lunch, and about to go through the till.

“Why don’t you ever buy me flowers?” I said, half teasing, and gesturing to the floral department.

He ran over and picked up a bright yellow potted lily (its pot wrapped in bright yellow cellophane), grinned at me mischievously, and put it on the till.

The bright little lily lit up my office for a few weeks. I watered it, frequently. Quite frequently, actually. Well. If I’m being honest, too frequently. Maybe.

The leaves had begun to develop brown spots on them. The lilies had shrivelled inward, as though trying to shelter themselves from the incessant flood.

Yikes! I thought to myself. Realizing the error of my ways, I decided I would give it some space. So I stopped watering it for a few weeks.

The lily still didn’t seem very happy. The soil dried and crumbled. The leaves turned yellow, and the thin stems started to bend and break.

There’s no winning with this thing. 

I went to IKEA and purchased a self-watering plant pot. The pot was a bit too large, so the soil only filled part of the container. I shrugged my shoulders and gave it a try.

The soil was heavily, heavily soaked when I returned to work after the weekend. The lily had all but given up. You could see it slouching over the edge of the pot, yellowed and wrinkled, thin and weak.

I sighed and gave up.

—–

My track record with plants is not amazing. I often joke that I have a black thumb, since I kill anything I’ve ever owned. My current project, surviving at the moment (knock on wood), is a little Bonsai tree we keep in our room. I spritzed him twice a day for the first week – once in the morning and once at night. After a week, I thought I would prevent myself from overwatering, and began spritzing him once a day.

He did not like that idea. The leaves began to fall from the stem. Each day, there would be 2 or 3 new leaves on our dresser, as though surrendering to the certain death they were facing at the hands of the desert landscape. I resumed spritzing twice a day.

The leaves continued to fall. It was then that I remembered plants need both water and sun, so I began to put the Bonsai on the floor by our patio door, where the bright sun came streaming in during the day. It seemed to be okay with that idea, but a few leaves still fell.

I finally realized I had only one option remaining – pseudoscience. So I named our poor little tree ‘Bonjamin’ and committed to talking to him to help him grow.

“Good morning, Bonjamin! My, you’re looking fine today. Are those new shoots? Oh, I see you’re losing a leaf – that’s okay, you can always grow more! Good job little buddy!”

Bonjamin is losing far fewer leaves now that he and I are on a first name basis.

—–

The most challenging part about ‘gardening’, for me, is the quiet. The leaves can’t tremble once for ‘yes’, and twice for ‘no’. The plant can’t open up its stems and tell you why it’s turning brown, or losing leaves, or dying. Any signs it can give you of its growth or its demise are all very gradual, and not immediately connected with the actions you take.

I find this to be such a compelling analogy for employee development, from the perspective of a coach or mentor. For all the actions, you may not see a result immediately, or you may not see the one you expect. Though individuals can speak, they can’t always express what they need (or what they don’t). It is a continuous process of A/B testing to determine which triggers happened to create plush green leaves and new shoots, and which triggers led to weak stems and yellow leaves.

The growth may also be small. It may happen little by little, in almost imperceptible ways – until suddenly you realize that tiny seedling is now ready to move out of the pot and into the garden.

We are all very lucky to have people who have nurtured us and helped us to grow. We may not always have liked the type of crap they piled on us (I mean, fertilized us with), we may have felt drowning at points, or that there was a drought of support at other times, and the sun was likely not always shining on us – but through resilience and gradually working together, we are able to move out into larger gardens and weather the elements on our own.

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