Where Is Your Support?

You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support - Sabrina Bryan

My living conifer arch thanks to the right support!

If you visit my garden and look at some of my weeping conifers you may think that there is something amiss. I love weeping trees for their uniqueness and character. Most of my trees look odd with stakes poking out of them. There may be several support stakes poised in curious directions. My garden is a like a paint canvass and I love to unleash my creativity which includes creating the unusual and funky. Weeping trees are like that odd flashy relative at a family reunion – you are mesmerized and just keep staring at them.

For years I have been training my conifers to grow in crazy directions. I even have a few that look like tall, wise old gents overseeing the garden with outstretched arms. In some of these pictures you can see where trees are being trained to weep where I want them too.  I have coaxed a few of them to create living arches over some of my paths. It’s incredible to walk through the garden under lush green arches that gently sway in the breeze. The key is providing the weepers with the right kind of support.

To grow into magnificent living sculptures, weeping trees need support. They can’t flourish into what is in your imagination alone. They also need patience and for you to carry out the vision of what they can be in your mind. In short, they need you because you provide the structure that they seek when they need it most.

 Creating living weeping sculptures is simple. Start with a weeping conifer with pliable branches and simply drive a support stake from a garden center into the ground until its sturdy.  The size of the stake should be taller than the branch that you will be supporting. Simply tie the branch(s) in the direction that you want them to grow onto the post with garden twine or tape. Don’t tie them too tight because the circumference of a tree branch grows more quickly than you may think and you don’t want to choke it by tying too tightly. Tie it enough so the branch remains supported yet, the branch or trunk has some slight wiggle room.

You will probably need to practise tying the branches a few times but its simple once you have the hang of it. That’s all you need to do! Within a year or two you can remove the stake and you will have a living art piece. Here are some of my favorite weeping conifers to use in the garden:

Weeping White Pine
Weeping Alaska Cedar
Weeping Norway Spruce
Weeping Larch
Weeping Serbian Spruce
Weeping Japanese Red Pine
Weeping Bald cypress
Weeping Hemlock
Weeping Blue Spruce

There are literally hundreds of weeping conifers for homeowners to start growing living art in the yard.  There are several excellent online garden sites where you can curate some unusual weepers for your yard. The best part? Staking and occasionally watering conifers are the hardest part about growing them into something where people say “Wow!”

Not surprisingly, we aren’t so different from plant life. There are times when we all need support  in order to spread out and grow into magnificent “living art”. The tree stake  that so many of us use to stake trees in our yards represents the many forms of support that enable us all to become the best that we can be in both our personal and professional lives. Our society is fast paced and we have become a world where we shoulder too much and feel like we need to do it all. Asking for help or admitting that we can’t handle a project or problem on our own leaves us feeling weak or ineffective. I have a hard time asking for assistance because I don’t like bothering others and I tell myself that I can handle what is thrown at me. Wrong!

Slowly, I feel that there is more societal acceptance brewing where people admit that we all need a little help or support – and it’s OK. The complexities of work and family have pushed many of us to pull back to try to find a better balance. Even business is pushing employees to take vacations and several have implemented programs to help create balance. Moreover, we have more choices available for support or group understanding. The Internet enables us to reach out to others anywhere in the world who may share our same concerns and frustrations.

Need some support? There are a lot of “stakes” out there to support your growth!

  1. Career and life coaches have become the norm and many companies even subsidize the cost.
  2. Group coaching for people experiencing the same issues or concerns.
  3. Certified career counselors can be very beneficial to supporting change and for encouragement.
  4. Networking groups. I have twins and when my kids were young our local Mother of Twins club kept me sane!
  5. Meetup groups are fantastic and ongoing all over the country. You can find any group to fuel a passion or be with like minds.
  6. Find a mentor. Numerous organizations have in-house programs as part of career development programs.
  7. Facebook can actually be a great resource for support. I was a member of a closed online mentoring group for a year and it was phenomenal. I met some great ladies.
  8. How about joining career groups like the AMA, Professional Speakers Association or other industry specific groups. I belong to our local Lean In group as well a local women’s group and it really helps me stay grounded. It is a safe haven to share my work balance concerns.
  9. Jump into some volunteering with a local chamber or diversity groups.You will grow professionally and support your personal enrichment.
  10. Join coworkers after work just to chat and get to know each other. You may find some new support or make a new confidant. My husband attends “beer league” at least twice a month with some coworkers and has really deepened some relationships.

Support and feeling like we are not alone is so critical in our fast paced society. Don’t try to grow alone, welcome a helping hand. When the going gets tough, find a “stake” to support you. At times I liken myself to the conifers that I support with stakes….The more support I have , the more likely I will be strengthened and become the living art that I was placed on earth to be!

You Want to do What??

Photo by  prozac1 via
“Calmness is the cradle of power” – Josiah Gilbert Holland

Last week at work I received an odd text from my son asking if he could cut down one of the beautiful River Birch trees in my garden. He wanted the wood for some carving projects. You can guess what my response was – no one messes with my garden! Little did I know why he was asking and how my week would go…….

Our local power company came for a neighborhood visit, which happens once every 15 years, looking for trees and foliage that may interfere with power lines. You guessed it, they decided that 13 of my trees had to be removed because they were within a 15 foot easement they have. Mind you that even though we have 6 acres, 15 feet is into my garden because our acreage runs lengthwise.  You guessed it – I flipped out. The trees that they were referencing were at the most 10 feet tall, a long way from growing into our 25 foot high power line. I plant with a purpose and am always precise in what I plant and where knowing that eventually everything gets moved in my yard. I planted for privacy and beauty. I just didn’t see how my 3 foot Colorado Blue Spruce is an issue now. 

You may not be a gardener however, envision your favorite hobby and how you would react if someone came in to put the brakes on enjoying your passion. Love riding motorcycles? Sorry, you can only ride between 2 pm and 6 pm. Enjoy running? Sorry, you can’t run on the road and have to stay 8 feet off the sidewalks – those are for walkers. You get my point.

It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t home when Dan from the power company dropped in last week. In fact, the holiday weekend offered me a chance to cool off to plot my next steps. After a few days of phone tag we set up a meeting in my garden so that I could talk him out of being the Hachette Man in 2 short weeks. I even went so far as to move three 5 foot conifers in the dead of winter. That was not an easy task in the Midwest.

Dan I met and toured the yard. My immediate aim was to have a collaborative working relationship. It was tough, but I wanted to hear his viewpoint knowing that going off on the electric guy wouldn’t help me any. I explained the passion for my garden, my reasons for intentionally planting what I did where, and my habit of always moving plants around in my garden.  He in turn explained his thoughts and we really collaborated on how we could come to an agreement. Dan gave me until June to move some of my treasures and gave me some tips. 

Dan the electric guy and I learned a lot from each other in our 40 minutes. He learned about new tree species and had a glimpse into the mind of a zany gardener.  Here’s what I learned:

·         When you are angry keep your mouth zipped. Give yourself time for information to sink in, to reflect, and think of your next steps. How many times have you neglected to do this and regretted it? I waited a day to call Dan back and I’m glad that I did.
·         Really get to know others in every interaction. Start with building dialog and a relationship. It will even the playing field and help set the tone for future interactions. I saw an opportunity to ask Dan for advice on getting into the forestry industry because my son loves the woods and nature. Dan’s passion for his job quickly kicked in.
·         Always place your views on the back burner and really put yourself in someone else’s place. Don’t always make everything about you. Listen to others, grasp their main points, and be willing to openly discuss your differences. It’s not easy to do particularly if you tend to be strong willed.
·         Offer solutions where you will both win. Dan extended the time that my trees will be removed from 2 weeks to June. That’s a win for me. In the end we agreed that the power company will remove all the tagged trees (about 8 now) and I will move 3 more of them in spring.
·         Assume positive intent on behalf of others. I love this phrase and have tried to burn it into my mind. Years ago I would not have always given others the benefit of the doubt. When negative events popped up I would too often think negatively. It’s not easy to do!
·         Be positive and optimistic even when you don’t feel like it. Once you start thinking positive you believe it. Once you believe it you radiate positivity to others and conversations change.
·         Respect the position of others.  I was initially steamed at Dan. To me he WAS the power company. We are all in the “position” of delivering unpopular news at one time or another. Remember to separate the person from their job. Treat people how you would like to be treated. Far too often I have been yelled at because of my job and it does hurt.
·         Be human.  Is it that hard?

Despite my fiasco with the power company it turned into a positive experience. Am I upset that my trees are being taken out when they really don’t need to yet? Yes!  But guess what? I have an opportunity to start fresh and bring some new life into my garden. I love change and can’t wait until the snow melts to get started.

What have you learned lately from an every day interaction?

The Politics Of Promotion - It's A Growth Thing

"Folks are like plants; we all lean toward the light" - Kris Carr

Spring is finally sneaking in and bringing warmer temperatures and even some bright sunshine. I can feel my garden slowing waking up and stretching after a very long cold nap. The snow and cold left me with a few surprises this week. Some of my coveted conifers have some pretty drastic winter burn and may not spring back with vigor or at all. The snow offered some protection, but not enough to prevent the unexpected.

 I refuse to pamper my plants with winter protection other than what Mother Nature offers. It would take me a solid month just to do so! Snow is an excellent insulator and as you can see from the middle picture below where the tree is half green and half brown, the snow did it's job. The upper part of my Atlas Cedar wasn't covered in snow and it was blind sided by the cold and wind. There wasn't enough protection ahead of time or during the long winter.  I just hope that in this case, the needles grow back which they sometimes do on this species. As for the other two conifers in the pics? I have little confidence seeing them recover. One they are brown, they are down!

My conifers didn't like the winter!
"Workplaces are highly political environments where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets more compensation, and who gets access to scarce resources are not based on performance alone. Our naive assumption that our performance will guarantee a successful career is a dangerous one" - Bonnie Marcus

Does this quote resonate with you?  Have you been burned or blindsided in your career like my winter burned conifers? Unexpectedly and out of the blue? I have and it hurts. Women in particular learn at a young age that if we work hard and do all the right "things" that we will come out on top and win. Hard work, dedication, focus, and brains just aren't enough to bring success. It's "playing the game", "schmoozing", "networking" that are the keys. If you have been frustrated and burned in your growth in your career you really need some guidance. I discovered a guide to help you form a new outlook on your growth. Bonnie Marcus's new book The Politics Of Promotion How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead is your protection for growing and not "getting burned"

Whether we like it or not, politics are everywhere. We can't escape them and if you can't beat them you will need to join them. For far too long women have been blindsided in the workplace by politics. We are left out of the boys club and feel that if we perform, our work will be noticed and rewarded. We lack confidence and won't toot our own horn. We fail to see signs of unrest because we have blinders on. We are left out of power decisions and meetings. In short we have a "political skills deficiency". You can work your tail off and do everything perfectly and it may not be enough. Others will pass you by and be promoted. Your career and salary will be stagnant. Whether you like it or not, you need to embrace politics to not only protect yourself from getting burned but to grow in your career and help your team to do so as well.

You need to develop "political will" which is a willingness to embrace politics and see office politics as "collaborative competition" Work place politics doesn't need to be a dirty job. We need to re frame politics and see it as a way to be subtle and behind the scenes in building strong relationships of trust and influence. Politics doesn't have to be self serving. It can be used to serve others. This notion is what really hooked me in Bonnie's book.

Bonnie effectively shows us how women can't afford to ignore the political landscape. She clearly lays out the consequences of remaining out of the ring. We need to jump in and play because no one can protect us better than ourselves. We need to let others know about our achievements. We need to be at the table with our male counterparts. That means being aware of what is going on around us and building relationships to further our growth. We also need to protect ourselves as we stumble through office politics. Bonnie introduces us to the 4 stages of being politically savvy. Each stage represents a level of political growth and awareness. To help you to find where you are, Bonnie offers a political skills assessment. Hint: you don't want to be a "Naive Nancy"!

Once you have an understanding of where you stand in the political landscape Bonnie reveals her Political Toolkit to help foster your political skills and maintain your place at the table.

Here's the Political Toolkit to bring with you to work every day:
  • Mirror: You need to do some honest self reflection to really find what your personal value proposition is. Toot your own horn and self promote. No one else will!
  • Magnifying Glass: Look closely at your work environment and really observe all of the dynamics and players. Look beyond your organization chart. Who has the power? Who really makes decisions? Watch the power, the rules, and monitor the culture.
  • Pass Go and Collect $200 Card: This is all about strategic networking and is your "card". It will position you to win as well as protect you. Networking is valuable for gathering information as well as building relationships. You never know when you will need to play your card.
  • The Get Out of Jail Free Card: This card is a sponsor. You really need to seek out a sponsor in your organization that will protect and promote you to others. The sponsor paves the way for opportunities. They help you find opportunities and are vested in you.
  • The GPS: The GPS is executive coaching. You need some help to find your way through landmines and to continue to strive for success. A coach is your partner and will give you continuous advice as you grow. They help with goal focus and keep you accountable. The coach is your key to remaining consistent and on track. You will be lost without one.

Bonnie's toolkit really help me to understand what I need to do to remain relevant and continue down my path to growth. It's not enough to achieve success though. You need to keep your tools sharp and utilize them regularly to stay relevant and grow. Once you reach your "top" it's very easy to become complacent and before you know it you may become an "outsider". That's when you really have to get those tools out and get busy.

I really enjoyed The Politics Of Promotion and highly recommend it to women at all stages of their career. Bonnie clearly shares the realities of what most of us have experienced such as losing a promotion, making a lower salary, stunted career growth. She easily  won me over to recognizing that I am stunting my own growth by ignoring office politics. Moreover, I am only opening myself up to getting "burned" by pretending that I don't need to play.

 Bonnie inspired me to jump into the ring of politics by detailing how becoming politically savvy can not only benefit me but others. Those who build strong relationships, build trust, are authentic and genuine leaders in this area can really have an impact and move others with them. I have always thought of office politics as a dirty game but this book changed all that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the real life "political" stories of successful women that The Politics Of Promotion shares with us. It's reassuring and uplifting to hear about some strong successful women who were fired or passed up for opportunities because they remained on the "outside' of office politics. Marcus effectively brings us on a journey that illustrates how "playing the game" can be an empowering and growing ride. Politics isn't just about you - it's about everyone. As a leader you can't afford to stand back and watch success pass you or your people by. Protect yourself and your teams by building relationships and using your toolkit every day!

The Politics of Promotion How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead needs to be in every woman's toolbox for success. In order to build you need tools. In order to grow you need support. Check out Bonnie Marcus's book at Amazon and don't get "burned"!

Are You Cutting Your Team Down OR Being Their Support?

Photo Courtesy of Dstma via Compfight

"To lead people, walk beside them...As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear, and the next, the people hate.. When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves!" - Lao Tsu

I have a confession to make. We have an artificial Christmas tree complete with integrated lights and branches that pop right out. No watering, no dry needles, no wonderful pine smells, probably no authentic Christmas spirit.. As a gardener, I should probably have a real evergreen inside for the holidays but I have always had a tough time even cutting my flowers to bring inside! I prefer to be outside enjoying them and avoiding the house when it's nice out! Surprising, I don't even have a lot of indoor plants. The ones that I do have tend to ask for little attention and scare the bugs away! I prefer to enjoy my garden as a whole and love to watch everything interact. This year I have vowed to decorate with more live greenery to bring more of the outside in.

This is a popular time for families to forge out and find that perfect Christmas tree. They bundle up and often make a full day of searching for the best tree that they can find. They cut it themselves and take care in carting it home while hoping that it fits in the house! The tree is lovingly watered and cared for until THE big day and then... all is forgotten.... out with the tree and in with Valentines Day. Next week I will give you some tips on finding the right tree and caring for it so that you can enjoy it into the new year.

Christmas trees can take anywhere from 7-15 years to grow, only to be cut down for a few special weeks in December. We don't think too much of cutting a tree for the holidays and it's such a priceless tradition throughout the world. Our tradition continues automatically every year, often with certain rituals being passed down through generations. As I watched my neighbors come home with their huge live tree this week a thought popped into my mind. Sometimes we don't even think twice about cutting things down. Guess what? Too many leaders cut their people down without a thought or without even realizing it!

Are you a leader unwittingly cutting your people down?
I have worked for both effective and just plain bad managers. Like many of our teachers back in school, we tend to remember the teachers that stood out and made a difference to us and really remember with vivid details the worst teachers ever. Surprisingly, they get worse over the years when we think back.....One of the best leaders that I ever worked for knew how to light up a room with his energy and positive attitude. He empowered us and allowed us the freedom to do our job. He encouraged us to learn from our mistakes and backed us up when we needed the support. I could easily talk to him about my frustrations without fear of reprisal. My worst boss? She was very threatened by her team. She looked for mistakes and picked on the little things. She micromanaged and jumped into matters that she didn't need to. In short, she made everyone miserable and no one respected her. We never knew when she would strike and it was tough to love our jobs and to perform our best. Neither of these leaders were "bad" people at heart (there was some debate on this in our team however). They probably didn't even realize how they were coming across to their teams. In my worst boss's case I hope that she didn't consciously try to cut people down. Don't be this type of leader - Don't cut your people down!
You could be cutting your team down if......
  • You whine or complain too much about systems, people, progress, your problems
  • You are negative and closed minded
  • You deliberately deceive others for personal gain or for your own career growth. You take credit and push blame
  • You are arrogant or have a deflated ego
  • You act like a dictator and micromanage
  • Keep to the status quo. Don't fall into the trap of saying "That's how we do things here". Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Don't belittle new methods
  • You aren't accountable. Stand up and take responsibility
  • Make empty threats or don't follow through on your commitments
  • Ignore the truth, data, feelings
  • Yell or scream
  • Don't thank people and recognize their gifts and accomplishments
  • You cut people down in a group and publicly humiliate them to make a point
  • You sugar coat feedback
  • Do what is wrong or stretch the truth
  • You can't self manage or self lead
  • Have no emotional IQ or are inflexible in showing empathy
  • Ignore team strengths and individual gifts
  • Can't adapt to or encourage change
  • Are over reactive and prefer to put out fires as they flare up
  • Can't communicate or won't foster stronger skills
  • Put teams or people in boxes
  • Churn people rather than develop them
  • Put processes first and can't foresee the need to step off of your path

Is this YOU? Are you cutting down your people without realizing it? If so - STOP! Go through this list and add your own weaknesses. It's not easy and not a lot of people can actually go through this process. Make a growth plan and address any areas where you are having a negative impact on your team. ASK for feedback and be strong enough to "take" the truth.

You can't keep cutting down trees in the forest and think that you will grow the group unless you are planting and nourishing new growth in your people. What will you start working on today?

Photo Courtesy of Ian Sane via Compfight

Who Is In Your Collection?

"What I can say is that there are some collections that come easily, and others that require more work" - Stephano Gabbana 

My latest garden fascination? Conifers! All shapes, sizes, and colors!

If you garden even just a tiny bit you probably have a few favorite plants. Maybe you love a particular plant's colors or they are the only ones  that you can keep alive. Die hard gardeners tend to become a bit obsessive and have particular "collections". A lot of gardeners love Hostas and there are numerous Hosta garden tours all over the country every summer.  Even Prince Charles has a Hosta garden. With thousands of types, shapes, colors, and sizes, you can create a beautiful calming space with them.

A garden collection is devoted to a single genus of plants. They compliment each other, yet can be so different. Collectors love increasing their brood because it can be challenging, fun, educational, and quite pricey to find unusual cultivators. For instance, some rare Hostas can cost you hundreds,  if not thousands, of dollars. It's fascinating to see how they all work together within a planting and how their sizes and colors play off of each other.

 I have two recent plant collections that I have been gathering and growing. I keep digging up lawn for them and carefully adding to the group. First, I have a cactus collection. I have over 20+ cactus plants growing outside year round in numerous shapes, sizes, and flower colors. I love them! They are all hardy to zone 4 and they sailed through last winter. They are maintenance free and the flower colors are magnificent! It's amazing to see cactus standing proud under falling snowflakes. Naturally, I plan to add more next spring.

My other passion is conifers. I love the different weeping, prostrate, miniature, grandiose sizes and colors of conifers (you know, pines, spruces, etc.). They are very low maintenance but are beautiful all 4 seasons. Some of my conifers have their own look and personality. Their branches sweep here and there. A few of them look like people or animals. They come in different greens, yellows, and the needles are all unique. I love the variety, textures, and diversity. Together, they create a beautiful picture and compliment each other. My next collection may be a maple collection... think of the colors and sizes that I can mix together there!

People aren't all that much different from plants. We are influenced by who we surround ourselves with and we offset one another. Most of us tend to hang out with a particular group both at work and play. We have a particular "collection" of friends that we stick with year after year or job after job. We are comfortable and relaxed in our groups and stay with them for that reason. But is that REALLY a good thing? Do yourself a favor...look very closely at the groups that you hang with the most.

"You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with" - Jim Rohn

Most of our parents  told us that we needed to be careful who we chose as friends. If you fell in with the wrong crowd you were likely to follow in their footsteps and become a trouble maker yourself. I know I saw that happen time after time - although I never said a word to my parents. Who wanted them to be right?

The start of my cactus garden with over 20 plants

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher" - Oprah Winfrey

If you look back at some of the groups that you hung out with in the past or current friend groups that gel well, they are likely very much alike and probably have the same interests, lifestyles, and paths in life. That's not necessarily the most effective way of meeting diverse people or learning new ideas. As Jim Rohn pointed out above, you become like those that you hang out with. Think of all the life experiences or changes that you can make happen in your life if you make a concerted effort to hang out with different people. The unique exposure to others, learning, and new opportunities are priceless gems in life. Grab those gems in any way or form that you can! Jump out of the crowd and swim with the fish! Form several new groups in the next few months.

Here's some ideas on finding some new "Collections" in your life:

  • Be with people who truly make you feel happy and confident.
  • Find groups of people who share a similar journey in life to share experiences and glean ideas. If you are an entrepreneur at heart and tend to have a group of number crunchers around you, you aren't likely to feel inspired.
  • You need to find the right people to help you grow.
  • Form relationships with some strong role models.
  • Find like minded folks that can help you want to learn or raise the bar. If you really need some presentation skills join a group of Toastmasters. You will quickly raise your skills and aspirations several notches.
  • Find groups that have a variety of thinkers, innovators, listeners, and achievers. It would be a life changing goldmine!
  • You may be able to find a mentor when you seek out other people in your collection of people. This is a priceless opportunity to grow under someones wing who has been there and done what you dream to do.
  • Diverse groups will challenge you. They won't let you get "comfortable" and laid back. To grow you need some conflict and others to encourage you to jump up a step.
  • Try to be a part of groups with different professions. Expose yourself to career disciplines that you never have before (or feared!).
  • Be daring, look for out of the box, become a "new" you within new groups.

Your mission for the next 3 months is to get out there and find new "collections" of people to interact with and form new relationships. The upcoming holidays are a perfect time to seek out some new "friends" and find people who will challenge yet support you, in the coming year.

Happy collecting!

Is Being a Leader Sucking the Life out of You?

Photo credit: Shandi-Lee via Compfight CC

"Work is 1% inspiration plus 99% transpiration" - Albert Einstein

Yup. It's that time of year again. Hustle and bustle, year end projects, tight schedules and endless meetings, vacations rushed in, and the holidays..... The days are shorter, the cold is bitter, and the clouds just keep dumping on us. The winter months can bring about too much stress to the point where you may feel that the life is being sucked right out of you. Guess what? It's not any easier on our plants outside braving the stress this time of year!

Winter weather can stress shrubs/trees throughout various regions in the country. For us snowbirds, snow can be our best friend by insulating and protecting plants for the winter. Often regions where it's bitter cold and there is a lack of snow cover suffer more plant loss. All life needs water to survive. When water is scarce or non-existent, we die. It's particularly critical that plants continually have sufficient water uptake throughout their roots and leaves. Plants go dormant during the winter but they still perform internal processes to survive. For instance, transpiration is movement of water throughout a plant/tree and the evaporation of moisture from it's aerial parts like the leaves, stems, and flowers  A lack of water stresses the plant out and it will eventually succumb.

Plants that are particularly vulnerable to cold drying winds and moisture loss include: Newly planted shrubs (that maintain green leaves) and evergreen trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies, boxwood, laurel, cedar, cypress, junipers, and plants being grown in a planting zone where they are marginally hardy (an example is growing a zone 7 shrub in a planting zone 6). I planted a specialty Alaskan Cedar that was marginally hardy in my area  where it was exposed to the winter winds. It slowly turned brown and didn't survive the winter despite my efforts to protect it. It was ripped out in the spring and a different tree was popped in it's place. Lesson learned!

This time of year, a lot of people love to decorate with live Christmas trees, wreaths, and evergreen ropes. They make the house smell great and they are more festive because they are "real". They also dry out real fast (lack of transpiration!) and the dry needles cascade all over the floor. In a real dry house, they often don't make it to Christmas!
 There are things that you can do to protect both your outside shrubs and your Martha Stewart holiday home...
  • Smaller newly planted evergreen shrubs can be protected by putting 3 stakes in the ground around the shrub and wrap burlap around it to protect from drying winds. You should only need to do this the first season unless you are a glutton for punishment.
  • Plant wind scold prone shrubs/evergreens in protected spots near the house or by taller trees that will block strong winds.
  • Check the planting zone of the shrub that you are planting. A Monkey Puzzle tree will not survive harsh winters no matter how much protection you give it. Be in your zone!
  • My favorite solution - spray the shrub and your live indoor decorations with a product like Wilt Pruf. Wilt Pruf is a anti-transpirant that protects plants from losing moisture. It protects against cold drying winds(in all seasons) and maintains the moisture in your live holiday decorations. Wilt Pruf is a pine emulsion that dries to a strong flexible coating on the shrub. It feels waxy after it dries and lasts about 3-4 months. It does not interfere with any of the natural plant processes like osmosis or photosynthesis etc. Bottom line - it's like a coat for your shrub and wreaths. It keeps the moisture in your shrubs outside and will help your Christmas tree thrive until December 25th inside. For more information on Wilt Pruf please checkout

Humans and plants are very similar. We get stressed a lot, especially this time of year. There have been times in the past where I  have felt like everything around me is trying to steal all my energy and wipe me out. We all have so many demands on us pulling from all directions. The poor economy in the past several years has only heightened the pull and stress. Family needs this, the boss needs that, employees have personal issues, teams have conflicts, peers fight like children, production is off schedule etc etc etc...Our people look to us to hit a magic button to make it all better. We can only give so much. The responsibility, and sometimes burden, of being an effective leader is a weight on all of our shoulders.
What happens when being a leader sucks the life out of you?

Many people never even realize how stressed out they are until they are pulled or forced out of a situation. A few years ago, I was in a job where nothing seemed to flow right within the company where I worked. It wasn't until after I left that I recognized how much stress I was under. Things happen for a reason in life and I was fortunate to get out of my situation while I still had hair left! You really need to recognize your own personal stress signs and act.

You have undoubtedly heard the saying that you can't control other people, you can only control yourself. It's true. I've tried - and failed! It's up to YOU to pull in the reins so that you have more control and less stress. It's worth mentioning that some stress is a good thing. It helps to keep you on your toes and focused. Stress is a monster from which you can't escape - you can try to cage it!

Here are some common culprits of stress that plague us all:
  • People: The demands of others, personal problems, "babysitting", negative people, disengagement, peer conflicts.. the list goes on and on.
  • Personal career dreams and aspirations
  • Problems: Big or small and you are expected to save the world.
  • Pressure
  • Pace/Lack of time
  • Politics: Internal politics can be a huge life drain. In many companies more time is spent "playing the game" than actually working. There are too many silos, turfs need to be defended and grown, everyone tries to please to get ahead. Yikes!
  • Effort: Sometimes it seems that everything is swirling around us and no matter how much of ourselves we offer or effort we give, it's just not enough.
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of resources
  • Technology or lack thereof
  • Personal life issues and struggles
  • Health issues
  • Interpersonal demands
  • No fun or life of normalcy
The list seems to go on and on. I'm sure that you can add several of your own. Just because you are a "leader" doesn't mean that you are invincible and can take on the world solo. Don't place that burden on your shoulders. You aren't any less of a person or professional if you need to stop and take a step back to keep the light alive inside you. Realize that you can't do it all and don't feel like a failure for a second when you take the first step to de-stress. Leaders have vision. You need the vision to look out for you!
What do smart leaders do to avoid having the life sucked out of them?
Here are some ideas!
  • Maintain your perspective on life. Remember your roots and dreams
  • Focus on the big picture with vision. Don't get caught up in the little things
  • Ask for feedback from mentors and other leaders in your circle
  • Find a mentor or key supporter
  • Develop your own personal "board of directors"
  • Find a great life coach to run things by and gain a different perspective
  • Ask for 360 support
  • Open up to others. Grow personal relationships with peers
  • Hire and empower the best people that you can - they are your stress deflectors
  • Streamline your area and reassign duties or teams
  • Delegate and develop trust for other's to handle hiring, training, management, etc
  • Address issues early and right away so things don't sneak up on you
  • Develop outside interests. Have a life
  • Find ways to recharge yourself. Make finding a hobby your number one goal
  • Do what you love. Find it if you aren't doing it!
  • Set a goal for only working a certain numbers of hours a week. Stick to it!
  • Meditate
  • Take breaks and de-stress throughout the day
  • Maintain a positive attitude and you will feel more alive
  • Be thankful to be a leader and remember why you worked so hard to become one - make a difference

Being a leader is like being a new parent. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't care for your "baby". At first it's tough to leave your "baby" in the hands of others but you need to. You can't be effective and lead if you are stressed with little life left inside you. Like our outdoor shrubs, you need to have life (moisture) cursing throughout your system in order to remain strong, viable, and thrive!
Photo credit: Ian Boyd via Compfight CC


** I was not compensated in anyway by Wilt-Pruf Products, Inc. I have used this product with success and recommend using it to protect your plants/shrubs.

Leaders "Shed" Too!

"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug" - Helen Keller

A pine needle rug of fall gold
To shed is to grow !
In most areas of the country, Fall is truly a spectacular rainbow of color. The smells are even better! Apples, pumpkins, pine, and fires scent the air. Where I live it's common for people to jump onto wagon rides for corn maze challenges and apple picking. Adults love to go up North for wine tasting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

It seems like our leaves fly off the trees about this time in October. Often the pine and spruce trees shed as well. Pools of gold needles fall at the feet of large conifers. New gardeners or homeowners sometimes panic when they see browning conifers and what seems like a large thick pile of needles dropping. Don't panic! It's all about shedding the old and moving on to new growth!

Generally it's the inner needles of conifers that turn brown or gold and drop. Pine trees tend to drop needles every 2-5 years and Spruce trees every 5-7 years. There is dropping every year because the tree is in a constant flux of shedding and growing new needles. New needle growth starts in the Spring after a long winter nap. Trees will drop more needles due to environmental stress. If there is drought (even from the previous year!), root damage (don't pile dirt or stuff on the roots), insect or disease - then the needle drop is on. Be aware that there are some conifers that do drop all of their needles every year just like regular trees. They then sprout bright green growth in the spring. Conifers with this behavior include the Larches, Dawn Redwoods, and Bald Cypress. The great news is that  fallen needles are a free mulch for your yard! Rake them up and put over your garden beds for winter protection. An added bonus is that they break down and feed your soil.

The dropping of leaves and needles on trees and plants prepares them for winter. When Spring arrives they can pop with healthy growth. The growth cycle maintains the ecosystem and the survival of plants and trees. Most of us have seen the damage to trees when they haven't yet lost their leaves when an unexpected snow storm hits. Branches break from the weight of the cold stuff and trees can suffer permanent damage.

 People need to prepare for change and growth as well. Healthy growth is vital to our existence, happiness, and future. Any aspiring leader should yearn to grow and have a commitment to doing so. Growing should be like breathing or eating. Sound leaders make a dedicated choice to grow. You can't use your talents if you don't "prepare" yourself for growth and shed your old "self" to grow into the new.

So... How DO you shed your old self and grow?
Here's some ideas!
  • Shed any old perceptions that you have. Open yourself up to the suggestions and views of others. Be open to criticism and be willing to  change.
  • Shed negativity and pessimism. Treat every day like a  new day.
  • Like our gardens, take advantage of down times (winters) to rev up and grow.
  • Believe in yourself and what you are capable of. Be yourself!
  • Act positive towards others. Let that positivity grow from within and drive you to guide others.
  • Develop a personal development plan for yourself. Carry plans down through to your people to help them grow. Make plans personal and not a condition of a promotion. Everyone needs to have a plan and believe in it.
  • Be proactive. Make things happen for yourself through admiring and growing the talents of others.
  • Learn learn learn! Splurge on learning for your people. Even if you are leading a book club find ways to help others learn through new processes and sharing thoughts.
  • Develop relationships with people at all levels and walks of life. The world is diverse - take advantage of it for your own growth. Don't judge.
  • Don't have an ego and avoid depending on others. Going solo won't work in the long run and you will miss the opportunity to make a difference.
  • Be disciplined. Start with small steps and expand. Doing tiny habits every day will build into something more.
  • Drop your fears and face the unknown. You need to jump into the fire to grow.
  • Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in life. I can teach myself gardening all day but the real growth comes from just doing it and experiencing through trial and error.
  • Be willing to sacrifice for others. Serve others in order to make an impact. Be humble and let others know that you are on the path to learn and grow.

You can't control your world anymore than garden plants can control the weather. Embrace your own growth and breathe in new ideas, thoughts, and diversity. Like the trees, you need to prepare yourself to grow and change so you can help others down the same path.

Happy raking!

Go ahead, be a unique "Leader"!

Weeping White Pine
Weeping Norway Spruce
 "Leadership has to do with direction. Management has to do with speed, coordination, and logistics in going in that direction. The Workers are chopping their way through the jungle. The Managers are coordinating, making sure the tools are sharp, etc. The Leaders climb a tree and shout Wrong Jungle! The Managers shout back Be Quiet! We're making progress." - Anonymous

One of the greatest attributes of our country is our freedom to express ourselves. We can dress zany, wear any number of piercings, and act (almost) anyway that we want. We can wear our personality on our sleeve and show our uniqueness to the world. A key American strength is our desire and drive to express ourselves and to be individualistic. Some people take this concept a bit far, but you have to admit that it's fun to people watch! Undoubtedly, it's not cool when that uniqueness is all over our children as we hide from THEM in public, but....

Unique means being one of a kind and completely unlike any other. I don't know about you, but I hate being like everyone else and have always tried to stand out - to be me. I've carried this over into my gardening style over the years and have put an unusual stamp on what I plant in my garden. The pics here are all from my garden and depict some of my favorite conifers. What I love about them is that they aren't like any other trees out there. They are notable to my garden and I've trained their various leaders to form unusual twisted shapes and curves. They are show pieces in my garden and have become more like living sculptures every year as they grow and change. The Weeping White Pine in the first picture to the left was trained to form an arch over a garden path. The tree has multiple "leaders" and they were propped and supported to grow in the form that I wanted with poles. A "leader" in the plant world refers to the primary stem or branch of a tree. A tree such as some of the gems on this page have multiple leads which gives them their artistic sculptured shape.

Just as the multiple "leaders" on these conifers lend a distinctive and special twist to their character, no two leaders are alike in the business world. If you haven't developed your own leadership style - you need to. You should strive to stand out from the rest of the crowd and brand your uniqueness so that others know what you stand for and what makes YOU different as a leader.Your brand is your promise to your clients or employees. It's all about creating and sharing who you are and what you will deliver. With the onslaught of social media and the Internet, it's more important than ever to discover remarkable attributes about yourself and put yourself out there. Above all, be yourself, and be sincere in your uniqueness!

What is YOUR uniqueness?

Young kids are great to watch and learn from. They are so curious and willing to learn new things and aren't shy at all about expressing themselves. As they age, both school and society teach them that they need to behave a certain way. For most, their curiosity and creativity wains as they try to "fit" in. Adults are no different. We find jobs that "fit" us and try to conform to the company cultures that we work in. As a leader, I urge you NOT to conform! You need to follow your "leaders" and stand out from the rest. To be a genuine leader, you need to discover your uniqueness and carve out your brand. You are as extraordinary as the artistic conifers in my pictures. You are like no other BUT you need to do some exploring to find your gifts and standout.

Your uniqueness as a leader is an art. It evolves, changes, and requires all of your creativity. Your uniqueness needs to come from within. People want to be around those who standout and inspire them. They want to follow those that they believe in, apply themselves more for, and are proud to be associated with. Perhaps your strength is connecting with others on a personal level. Maybe it's building varied and diverse teams. It may even be your quiet demeanor that inspires. Find it. Bring it out. Cultivate it. Make a difference.

Here are some things to focus on as you  morph into a unique leader:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. Instead, associate with people who inspire you or those that you admire. Maybe even spend time around those that intimidate you. You've heard the saying that you become like the 5 people that you hang out with the most.
  • Concentrate on your strengths. They are your gifts and form your uniqueness.
  • Partner with those whose strengths are your weaknesses. They can offset each other.
  • Failure is good! Use it to learn from and to motivate you. The most successful people have piles of failures behind them.
  • Take risks when you believe in something. Learn from them as well.
  • Be a leader on your own terms. Standout as creative and innovative. Define who you are to others and stay true to your brand.
My two absolute favorite conifers are the Weeping White Pine (Pinus Strobus Pendula 7ft x 10ft) and the Weeping Norway Spruce (Picea Abies Pendula 5ft x 4 ft). They are stately conifers that will really define and  make your yard stand out. If you spend any money on your landscaping, these trees are well worth the purchase. Their presence will increase the value of your home. They are gorgeous in the winter with snow or ice hanging off of their contorted branches. These conifers become more unique over time. They shine with other bushes or flowers planted at their feet. Despite the fact that their tags say they can grow large, they are very slow growers. They are grafted and their leaders grow in weeping ways - this way and that. They can be allowed to grow freely so that they will stay low to the ground. They can be lightly pruned if a branch grows a way that you don't want it to. I have staked branches on most of my Weeping Pines and Norway's with poles to "train" them to grow the way that I want. Once the branches age, I remove the stakes and they stand on their own. It gives me flexibility to make my trees fit where I want them to and I get spectacular yard sculptures. I have two Norway Spruce's that literally look like old men bent over complete with outstretched arms and a body. Norway's can easily be planted close to a house. I have one planted literally 10 inches from my sun porch and I just train it's branches where I want them to weep. The Weeping White Pines need a bit more room as they grow larger and are best planted as specimen trees in your yard or about 4 feet from your home. Be creative and enjoy!

As you drive around neighborhoods in the next week, look for yards that stand out. They may not have a lot of landscaping, but discover those that have a statuesque conifer that catches your eye. Look for twisted and turning branches that sweep here and there. A yard can have nothing else in it but an unusual specimen. You will notice it before anything else. Try it. Then use the same eye to look for distinctive leaders that stand out in your company, school groups, community etc. What makes them special?

 Remember, you don't need a fancy title to be a leader. It's how you come across to others and what you can do for them. Follow your "leaders" and stand up to proclaim your uniqueness.

Weeping Larix
Weeping Blue Spruce

Weeping Hemlock

Weeping Norway Spruce