When Nate Berkus paid a visit to Oprah at her home in Montecito, CA, she showed him (and us) her field of blooming lavender. It was glorious and  occupied at least an acre of her property. It was obvious that Oprah enjoyed sharing this favorite spot with all of us.

Since I’ve resumed gardening, I understand her pleasure. Visitors to my home are given a garden tour as soon as they arrive.

My little garden bears no resemblence to Oprah’s vast estate, however. It is located on the long, skinny balcony that runs across the front of my condo.

I’m learning to keep things alive despite the intense heat that arrives every afternoon as the sun blasts my garden for several hours. The bordering pear trees provide shade for some of the day, thank goodness, and that makes growing a bit easier for all of my herbs and flowers.

There’s lavender in my garden, too, but it’s a single pot, not a field. It gives me as much pleasure, I suspect, as Oprah’s gives her. I plan to add another pot of a more fragrant variety than the one I began with.

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I created my last garden and every day this new one brings me pleasure. In a garden—or a business—one idea or activity tends to spawn another and another. I love watching the evolutionary process in action.

This one, like my previous gardens, has reminded me of another important thing. It is, in fact, one of the basic principles of my goal-setting philosophy. When making a change or enriching your life,  expand from where you are with what you’ve got.

That seems so obvious to me, but not everyone seems to realize that you don’t have to wait for perfect conditions or a large windfall or a Montecito estate in order to begin.

Have you ever noticed that folks who complain about everything they don’t have aren’t very good at using what they do have? Bemoaning what’s missing, tends to make what’s present invisible.

That is not the road to happiness or accomplishment.

It’s also not necessary. “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that,” said the wise Norman Vincent Peale.

Entrepreneurs seem to make mobilizing the resources at hand into an art form. They discover that turning on their imagination opens the door to opportunities that are right at their fingertips.

So what are you going to plant this week? Or beautify? Or mobilize? How can you put something to work on your behalf that you already have?

After all, a garden or a business doesn’t have to be big in order make a beautiful difference.


It would come as no surprise, I’m sure, to learn that I’m particularly sensitive to any mention of gardening as a companion to the creative process. Here are three very different stories that caught my attention this week.

When I was headed to Trader Joe’s last weekend, I heard a story on NPR about Trout Gulch Farm and couldn’t wait to get home and find out more about this place started by young filmmaker Isaiah Saxon.

According to the story on NPR, “With the help of filmmaking buddies Sean Hellfritsch and Daren Rabinovitch, Saxon has transformed 10 hilly acres surrounding his mother’s house in Aptos, California into Trout Gulch, a kind of rural hacker space where they build their own houses, grow organic vegetables, milk goats and produce state-of-the-art digital animation.”

Saxon explains how his group of 21st-century pioneers takes a do-it-yourself approach to just about everything. You can find out more about how these fellows are building their Hobbit village and building a successful business at the same time at Trout Gulch.

Four years ago, author Barbara Kingsolver had another bestseller with her nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written in conjunction with her husband and daughter.

The book chronicles the experiences of Kingsolver and her family who decided to spend a year eating only food they raised themselves or that was grown in their neighborhood.

As a result, Kingsolver found herself becoming the spokesperson for the locavore movement—and inspired countless others to start producing more of their own food.

The experience also inspired a small surge in the number of farmer’s markets around the country, plus a new enterprise started by Kingsolver’s spouse.

Her husband Steven Hopp reports, “My most notable commitment to local food has been to put the ideas I’ve learned into practice in our own little community. In 2008, I created a community business devoted to developing and promoting a local economy.

“The Meadowview Farmers’ Guild  is a two-part business, a restaurant devoted to local foods and a general store supplied with local hand-made goods from more than120 different individuals. The Harvest Table Restaurant is a casual fine dining restaurant devoted to sourcing its food as locally as possible.”

You can find out more about activities inspired by the book by visiting www.animalvegetablemiracle.com.

My favorite story of the week, however, comes from writer Elizabeth Gilbert who shared her experience on finding her lost curiosity by abandoning her writing and taking to the garden.

Read Gilbert’s short essay here: What to Do if You Can’t Find Your Passion.




Several years ago I was drowning in negative thoughts and feelings. What was needed, I decided, was some physical activity. I decided to pull the weeds that had infiltrated my yard.

Once I got into the rhythm of the project, I had the idea to imagine that with each weed removed, a negative thought was being removed from my mind. By the time I finished my task I was feeling noticeably better.

I decided that weeding was a fine therapy and have consciously sought to keep my mind as weed-free as possible. It took a while to realize that intentional weeding is also an important aspect of growing a successful business.

If I were going to describe the entrepreneurial journey in two steps, I’d borrow the title of Geri Larkin’s marvelous book—Plant Seed, Pull Weed. That’s pretty much what we do day after day.

Unfortunately, many people are better at the first part than they are at the second. Not long ago, I got an e-mail from a woman who had started a business, hit a slump and  abandoned her project.

She ended her account of the short history of her joyfully jobless journey by saying, “I guess I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur.” That sounds like a big nasty weed to me.

Like so many others, she is cultivating a crop of weeds, not nurturing the seeds of what she truly wants.

An old definition says a weed is merely a plant that growing in a place where it’s not wanted. Likewise, as entrepreneurs we need to decide what we want to allow to flourish in our businesses—and what needs to be removed.

The Joyfully Jobless life is participatory, not a spectator sport. Try things. Be willing to do things badly. Reconfigure. Learn to find creative solutions.

So don’t be afraid to get dirty. Realize that weeds are a normal part of any worthy undertaking.

As Larkin reminds us, it’s also an on-going process, but it’s one with delightful rewards. Plant Seed. Pull Weed.


“Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed.”

So writes May Sarton in her biographical  Plant Dreaming Deep which chronicles her first experiences as a homeowner. A total novice when it came to domestic matters, Sarton undertakes her first nesting experience with gusto.

In addition to remodeling the house, Sarton plants her first garden and discovers that gardening provided a perfect compliment to her literary life.

“One of the things gardening does for me is to provide a way of resting without being bored,” she says. “A day divided between writing in the morning and gardening in the afternoon has a good balance. And gardening is so rich in sensuous pleasures that I hardly notice its solitariness.”

Sarton isn’t the first writer to discover that gardening is a fine muse, of course. Consider the career of prolific Beverley Nichols.

According to his Wikipedia profile, “Between his first book, the novel Prelude, published in 1920, and his last, a book of poetry, Twilight, published in 1982, Nichols wrote more than 60 books and plays. Besides novels, mysteries, short stories, essays and children’s books, he wrote a number of nonfiction books on travel, politics, religion, cats, parapsychology, and autobiography. He wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers throughout his life.”

Despite his prolific literary output, Nichols is most remembered for his gardening books which share his personal experiences creating luscious green spots in London and in Surrey. Here’s a sample from Rhapsody in Green.

“In creating a garden we are creating—or endeavouring to create—a work of art. We are not merely filling  a blank space around the house, nor contriving a playground for tots, nor providing ourselves with enough spinach for our old age.”

Although gardening can be a satisfying undertaking in and of itself, of course, what Sarton and Nichols discovered is that taking up gardening also had a positive impact on their other creative endeavors.

And they’re not alone. Amy Stewart’s From the Ground Up is a wonderful story about a young woman’s first attempts at gardening.  Her challenges and triumphs will sound familiar to anyone who’s raised a startup business.

Another book I enjoyed is Ruth Kassinger’s Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden. Her first visits to the garden center were reminiscent of my first visits to a computer store.

This is just a small sampling of the tales told by gardeners who found unexpected adventures in their own backyards. If you’ve read and enjoyed a gardening biography, add your favorites to the comments here.

There’s one other story that I’m delighted to share. Holly Hirshberg, one of my Facebook friends, has been nominated for a CNN Hero award because of her work with The Dinner Garden. Here’s her inspiring story that appeared on CNN this weekend.





Years ago a mentor of mine explained that the world, like an orchard, was divided into two groups: planters and pickers.

The planters, he said, see something that doesn’t exist and go to work cultivating thesoil, putting in seeds and plants, protecting their crop from weather, insects and other enemies.

Planters vigilantly nurture their fields despite risks and setbacks. Eventually, this sustained effort pays off as a great reward.

Pickers, on the other hand, arrive after the long months or years of labor and remove the fruit from the trees. Their involvement and financial reward is much smaller.

Pickers are interested in immediate gratification—no matter how meager. Pickers are not suited to the entrepreneurial life.

From the moment I heard this analogy, I knew which group I wanted to join. What distinguishes a planter from a picker? Here are four traits that set planters apart.

See Possibilities

Bugsy Siegel is credited with turning the desert town of Las Vegas into an entertainment destination. In a documentary on the history of that city, the narrator talked about Siegel’s vision and how alone he was in thinking something so unlikely would happen.

“Where others only saw sand,” said the narrator, “he saw a playground.”

Stephen Covey reminds us that one of the habits of highly effective people is they begin with the end in mind. That’s true for any kind of planter. No matter how far away the end may be, that vision is present at the beginning stage of any undertaking.

Plant a Lot

When I was putting in my first garden, my Aunt Agnes came to assist me. After we’d planted rows of vegetables, we still had a large corner that we hadn’t used. “Let’s just broadcast the flower seeds over there,” she advised.

I didn’t know what broadcasting meant, but she quickly explained it was scattering the seeds in no particular order. When my garden sprang to life, it had tidy rows of plants and  a wild flower patch at the end.

That garden was a lot like successful businesses: some parts are tidy and others are wild. The important thing is to keep planting seeds, making new connections, trying out new ideas, using different methods.

The neat and tidy parts will be satisfying while the wild and unruly parts will add surprise and color.

You’ve heard it said hundreds of times: you reap what you sow. In business, unlike horticulture, planting is a perpetual activity, not a seasonal one.

Protect Your Plantings

Cowards abandon their dreams at the first challenge leaving them to wither and die. Maybe they don’t understand that dreams, like seedlings, are fragile things and need protection from the assaults on their growth.

Just as plants need proper temperature, light and humidity for optimal growth, you need to create the conditions that nurture your dreams. You also need to protect them from damaging forces.

When actress Hilary Swank was asked about dropping out of high school at the age of 15,  Swank said that she had several teachers who kept telling her to give up her little acting hobby.

Even those who weren’t so overtly discouraging played a part in Swank’s decision, she said. “I couldn’t get inspired by teachers who didn’t want to be there.”

Recognizing the damaging forces and removing our dreams from those situations is equally important if we expect to bring our own to fruition.

Enjoy the Growing

The planters among us are wise enough to know that each stage of growth is necessary. They don’t look at their seedlings and demand an immediate  bushel of fruit.

Paul Hawken, who once said that all entrepreneurs should study horticulture to learn how to run a business, writes, “I am constantly reminded that plants that grow too fast are not really healthy, and that plants growing too slowly are not thriving, either.

“If you try to speed your business up, you won’t get it right and will have to do it over….Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree? Spores beat out acorns every time in growth rates, but never in longevity or durability.”

Then there’s this lovely image from Dawna Markova:

To live so that that which comes to me as seed

Goes to the next as blossom

And that which comes to me as blossom

Goes on as fruit.


When Napoleon accused England of being a nation of shopkeepers, he wasn’t, presumably, giving them a compliment. Nearly 200 years later, this description of British business is still accurate.

Although you’ll find all sorts of tiny businesses there that don’t qualify as shops, the country still values individual enterprise. Even in London, 90% of all businesses employ fewer than twenty-five people.

Consultants, craftspeople, writers, designers and freelancers of all sorts have created marvelously innovative niche businesses for themselves.

This philosophy of small scale enterprise gained global attention in the seventies when economist E.F. Schumacher wrote his popular book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

Schumacher’s ideas made sense to those concerned about global issues, as well as those who suspected that one of the functions of business was to help people actualize their potential. He pointed out that those benefits could only come from small scale enterprises that cared about people and the planet.

In the US, Schumacher mainly caught the attention of the counterculture, since conventional business was still focused on a bigger is better mentality. Even though Schumacher’s writing didn’t make much impact on the reorganization of big businesses, it had a resounding influence on new enterprises that started small and were determined to remain small.

There’s still a great deal we can learn from our English cousins. Why have they sustained such a long history of small business success? Might this have anything to do with the fact that this is also a nation of voracious gardeners?

Consider, this advice from the great British garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse. A real hands-on gardener, Hobhouse and her late husband were the gardeners at Tintenhall in Somerset.

Several years ago, she shared her ten life rules of garden design with an American gardening magazine and the parallels to good business design were obvious.

What business wouldn’t benefit from applying these rules?  I’ve also added a couple of comments in parenthesis.

You might want to post these in your garden—or office.

1. Never go anywhere without a notebook. Be a perpetual student.

2. Find one mentor, or many.

3. Do your homework.

4. Trust your own experience. Keep notes of what works and what doesn’t.

5. Don’t get hung up on plants (or products or services). A garden is bigger than all that.

6. Never think you’ll get it right the first time. If a plant isn’t happy, don’t hesitate to dig it up and move it to a better spot.

7. Encourage self-seeding plants to seek their own place in your garden. (Find your own metaphor in that.)

8. Don’t forget that sunshine and shade are design elements.

9. Avoid fussiness. Above all, simplify.

10. Focus on the garden you really want.


My 7-year-old granddaughter came over early today before the heat and humidity rolled in. Without any prompting from me, Zoe headed to my balcony garden and began deadheading the dianthus.

I’m just learning to garden in this new-to-me climate, but I’ve already discovered that deadheading is my friend. My lavender plant, which seemed ready to give up when all its blooms turned brown, sprang back to life when I snipped off the dead blossoms which were promptly replaced by a new crop of buds.

Novice gardener that I am, I had always assumed that plants were deadheaded simply to remove the unattractive blooms that had completed their life cycle. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to a gardening expert, for many plants, deadheading promotes more flowering on the plants  than would occur without such plant care. It’s another fine lesson from the garden that we can transplant to our businesses.

Every ninety days or so (or even every month), take a look at what’s blooming and what’s just hanging on. Are there activities that are more duty than they are joy? Clients who aren’t really a good match? Entire parts of your business that need cutting back?

If you’re haunted by scarcity thinking, this is a challenging thing to do. You’ll start recalling the many times you’ve been told that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

You’ll be tempted to hang on to what you’ve got for fear that letting go will be the beginning of the end of your Joyfully Jobless life.

Poet David Whyte got my attention when he wrote, “Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” Reminding yourself of that is an excellent way to decide where deadheading is in order.

Consider this. What if deadheading those things you’ve outgrown is actually your way of making room for new growth?  What if getting what you want begins with getting rid of what you don’t want first?

In one of the early chapters of Catherine Ponder’s classic The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity she talks about this very thing (although she doesn’t call it deadheading). She suggests that when we fail to see progress in our lives, it’s often because we haven’t made room for what we truly want.

She writes, “Begin moving the tangible and intangibles out of your life in the faith that you can have what you really want and desire. Often it is difficult to know what you do want until you get rid of what you don’t want.”

Deadheading, as my garden is reminding me, is an on-going process, one that pays visible dividends. In my business, it’s the way to keep evolving ahead.

As Catherine Ponder points out, “It takes bold, daring faith to set it into operation, as well as a sense of adventure and expectation to reap its full benefits.”

Whether it’s a luscious garden or a luscious business that you’re growing, be bold in clearing out that parts that don’t fit. Don’t wait to discover that deadheading really is your friend.


When I moved to Minneapolis in late summer of 1986, I rented a third floor apartment that had a nice little balcony. The following spring, I decided to see if I could grow a plant or two out there.

Before I knew it, my plant or two had evolved into a gorgeous little garden complete with an old wooden ladder-turned-plant-stand and a bentwood trellis from Smith & Hawken. There were vines, pots of daisies and begonias.

At the time, none of my neighbors were balcony gardeners. When I left a dozen years later, balcony gardens were in bloom throughout the complex.

Gardening is contagious apparently and, oh, how I’ve missed it.

After my sabbatical in 1999, I returned to Minneapolis and moved into a wonderful apartment that, sadly, was without any outdoor space. I made do with houseplants.

When I relocated to Las Vegas, I didn’t even attempt outdoor gardening although I heard rumors that it was possible.

I wasn’t always enthusiastic about growing things. I’d half heartedly planted a vegetable garden one year and vowed it would be my last. Weeds took over as I avoided spending time in what I came to think of as a mosquito habitat.

Eventually, I caught the gardening bug from my friend Chris Utterback and she caught the entrepreneurial bug from me. It was a fine trade.

When we met, Chris was new to self-employment. Her passion for gardening had led her there.

An enthusiastic herb gardener, Chris had her first foray into business thanks to a bumper crop of tarragon. She harvested the herb, arranged bundles of it in a wicker basket and called on chefs at all the French restaurants in Denver.

Not only did she sell out, her new customers begged for more. Chris was hooked.

The more she learned about growing things and growing a business, the richer her world became. She went on to publish Herban Lifestyles newsletter for several years. That led her to connect with many other passionate gardening entrepreneurs.

As I’ve been tending my new balcony garden, my first in a dozen years, I keep thinking about how many things that happen in the plant world are mirrored in the business world.

In Paul Hawken’s marvelous book, Growing a Business, he points this out repeatedly. He says, “Ideally, every business student should study biology, the science of life and therefore change. At the heart of the business enterprise is the implementation of true and lasting change, creating the real out of the potential.”

This month I’m going to be sharing lessons from the garden. My little startup blooms are wise and patient teachers and I can’t wait to pass along the things they’re showing me every day that can also help us grow luscious businesses.

What are you growing this summer? Learned anything from your plants?