Your Job Is To Garden

The last few weeks have seen an outburst of activity in my garden.  The birds, insects, plants and my family have all been busily doing their part, growing our beautiful and thriving little patch of Melbourne. Last night while enjoying my evening, pruning roses, pulling weeds, and laying mulch I was amused to be reminded of a debate I’ve been having for a while now with my colleague Tom. Here’s that very debate in a Karen Gately blog nutshell.

As an avid gardener I have come to recognise strong parallels between what I do to create, grow and maintain my garden with what it takes to build and develop a successful team.  I shared this analogy in a workshop once much to the amusement (or more accurately, bemusement) of Tom. It’s not something he has been able to easily move on from, regularly reminding me how much of a bad idea it is to tell managersthat “your job is to garden”.

I’d like to explore the views of other people on the usefulness of this ‘gardening’ analogy – I’m sincerely open to feedback that it is as ‘naff’ as Tom thinks it to be, but I figure it’s worth putting it out there and getting your feedback too! Every leader’s job is ultimately to achieve business results through their teams.  The standard of results achieved is a direct reflection of the extent to which the full potential of the team has been leveraged. Tapping into this full potential is an ongoing process that requires focus and dedication day after day.  Using gardening as an analogy, I explore the key ingredients of creating and maintaining a successful team.  As with any garden, teams need regular watering, fertilizing, mulching, weeding, pruning and a little help from Mother Nature.


Like creating a beautiful garden, to create a successful team you must first understand your end goal. In other words, you need to have a clear vision and work backwards from there. What is the purpose of and subsequent attributes of the garden you wish to create?  Once you’ve established these two critical visions, plan your garden to suit. Otherwise, your garden may be pretty, but it won’t suit your needs or fit into the climate in which it  must perform. Structure is critical, and just like placing people in roles to suit their qualities, it’s important to remember that not every plant can thrive in every environment. Putting people and plants in the right position initially will drastically impact on their ability to survive and thrive.  Remember some plants needs shade, others sun; make sure you plan the right fit for each position.

Plant Selection

Teams and gardens both need diversity and getting the mix right is critical.  Different plant types have different roles to play and no garden is complete without a mix of them all.  Like people, too many of the same type can be a problem, but too few can also mean the garden is lacking.

Annuals – these are the impressive and typically showy plants which come and go quickly but undoubtedly make a significant contribution while they are there.  Like team members they are great to have but only in moderation.  To create stability and longevity it’s wise to ensure they form no more than 10% of your garden.  Perennials – aren’t as quick as annuals but with care and nurturing will reward you year after year, getting stronger as they grow.  Trees – provide structure, stability and comfort – and if looked after will be around for many years. Other plants grow up under them and often look to them for shelter and support.  While their stability and longevity is valuable, it is important to watch for any dead wood and ensure their root systems don’t take over and undermine the garden.

Watering and fertilizing

For plants to survive and prosper they need nourishment. Watering and fertilizing take focus and effort but they are investments in the short and long term health of your garden.  Over watering or fertilizing is a waste of resources and can be damaging. For example, be sure not to ‘over pamper’ your plants or they will struggle to perform when the going gets tough. Choosing the right fertilizer and making sure you have the right stuff –  in the right dose – is imperative.


Mulch protects a garden from rapid evaporation and root damage.  To be effective it must be used as prevention and not cure. It’s important that leaders understand what kind of mulch their team needs. Whether it be creating a positive cultural environment or ensuring your team enjoy reasonable work life balance, leaders influence the longevity and strength of their team during challenging times.


Weeds are plants too but they lack substance, tend to be invasive and can damage the environment.  They are ‘chancers’ and will take advantage of any situation, so it’s vital that you don’t let them take over! Appearances can be deceiving; they can be attractive on the surface but are actively working to starve valuable plants of food and water. Like poorly behaving people, weeds need to be removed as soon as you see them breaking through the ground. Left unchecked what could have been a small job initially suddenly gets out of hand and becomes a tiresome and stressful task.

Birds, Bees and Ladybugs

In every team there is a role for bees – those who play an active role in working between the plants to get things to happen.  During times of change the bees are the members of our team that we can work with to influence the engagement and ‘buy-in’ of their colleagues. Equally important are the birds and ladybugs who look out for the health of the garden and take an active role in pest control; often they look peaceful but are powerful allies.

Stop and smell the roses

As a gardener I get to smell the roses and relax enjoying the results of my hard work.  Often leaders fail to take the opportunity to step back and take the time to enjoy the results of their efforts. It’s equally important to keep an eye on the health of your garden as change and decline can be rapid and take you by surprise. If you don’t catch ‘rot’ quickly, you can lose valuable plants and trees that have taken many years to establish.

Like a manager, a gardener’s job is never done.  Creating the structure, selecting the plants, putting them in their right position is just the start.  From there it’s a daily job to stay focused and continuously provide your garden with the ingredients it needs to keep it growing and flourishing.


One thought on “Your Job Is To Garden

  1. Hello,my names are boniface kimathi and am requesting for job educated and passed my o level with grade c-.i also did horticulture for 3months in kenya horticulture society ,and also went for gardening clinics at plant galore at familiar with almost every garden and trees..i worked for dt dobie for almost a year in 2010 but since then to date i have been working for ruth horsy for 4years..making me well expirience in garden looking forwad to any vacancy available so that i can make your garden look even much better than it is.

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