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?



I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise creative instincts.  ~ Richard Branson

When you decide to follow the path of self-employment, old notions that you can only make a living working for someone else may not be the only thought you need to leave behind. Your idea of what it takes to be an entrepreneur may be as outdated as the typewriter, too.

Listen in on a conventional business conversation and the first thing you’ll notice is how often sports are used as a metaphor. You’ll hear things like, “That’s just par for the course. You gotta step up to the plate. We need more team players around here.”

Business as a competitive game reflects another outdated image.

Much of the information about starting a business reflects a limited concept, too. When the idea of starting my own business took root in my mind, I began doing research.

What I discovered was the assumption that everyone wanted to grow a massive enterprise. Did I really want a building with my name in six-foot high gold letters? Employees? Pension plans? None of that appealed to me.

The idea of working for myself wouldn’t go away and I decided there must be another way of doing things—a way that’s high on satisfaction and simplicity. Happily, Dr. Schumacher came along and affirmed my hunches.

The philosophy of small scale enterprise gained global attention in the seventies when economist E.F. Schumacher wrote his visionary book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Schumacher mainly caught the attention of the counterculture, since conventional business was still focused on a Bigger is Better mentality.

Yet his 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 argued that those benefits could only come from small scale enterprises that care about people and the planet. It’s an idea that suddenly seems ripe and ready to replace the old model.

Meet the 21st Century Entrepreneur

The signs are everywhere that a new kind of businessperson is emerging. The venerable Wall Street Journal even named an editor to cover Lifestyle Entrepreneurs, as they call them. These are people who start businesses for reasons other than amassing a fortune and building a large organization.

These visionaries don’t resemble athletes at all. In fact, they look more like gardeners.

Paul Hawken, a successful entrepreneur and writer, goes so far as to suggest that every business student should study biology since the lessons learned in the plant world directly apply to successful businesses.

Penelope Hobhouse, a real hands-on gardener and prolific writer, shared her life rules for garden design and the parallels to good business design are obvious. (I’ve added a couple of comments in parenthesis.)

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

2. Find a mentor—one 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 the garden. (Find your own metaphor in that.)

8. Don’t forget that sunlight and shade are design elements. (Your business needs variety and contrast, too.)

9. Avoid fussiness. Above all, simplify.

10. Focus on the garden you really want.