Phew It's Done!

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles via
“Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays”John Clayton

Come on…. I’m not the only one thankful this time of year that the holidays are over. Admit it. This time of year can bring an overabundance of too much cheer with holiday parties, socials, present shopping, suffering with some relatives, and feeling like you just can’t do enough. We find ourselves in a vortex of activity and anticipation. I liken the time after the holidays to the sensation of feeling exhausted and experiencing the joy of falling into a huge pillowed pile of soft white down blankets. “Ahhhhhhh”.

Although I am a gardenaholic and love spending time outdoors creating, digging, and fussing in my garden, there is a feeling of “phew” once the season is over and my garden slowly falls asleep. I’m sure that many of us are feeling that way right now.  The big event is over and we have time to relax and rebound before the next “season”.  There has been a hustle of activity and sense of urgency and we just can’t take the time to sit back and enjoy the season that we are in. It’s only afterwards that we exhale and realize what a ride it has been.

This time of year gives me a chance to relax without the worries of watering the garden, deadheading, throwing all my creativity into the ground, and I can reflect. I have the time to look at what I have done this past year in my garden and start to plan what next year will bring via UPS! The garden catalogs are starting to flow into my mailbox and I’m getting eager to start fresh and make changes the next season.

This is also the time for you to plan for the next season before you set some 2016 goals that you may or may not keep. Before you can plan for change you need to get the cobwebs out of your brain, relax your mind, and open up your thinking. Now is the time to reflect on what brought you joy last year and feel accomplished, may it be in your personal or professional life. Only then can you set goals or look forward. Get the cobwebs out of your head before you tackle new growth.

Sit down and say “Phew”

  • Admit that you are glad the hustle and bustle is done. Don’t feel guilty. Society has brainwashed us all into feeling guilty if we aren’t all happy, giddy, and fulfilled this time of year.
  • Purge both mentally and physically. It will make you feel better and like you are making progress. Even if it is symbolic you are one step closer to bringing in the new.
  • Focus on you. Spoil yourself in a fashion that you normally don’t (no red sports cars now...)
  • Try a new hobby for the month. It may open new ideas or doors next year.
  • Read. Yes, pick up a physical book and just read.
  • Disconnect at 6 pm every night from all your gadgets and social media. Try it even for 1 night. Then try going 2 nights. The world will not end without you. Facebook will be waiting for you.
  • Watch some trash TV – within reason. Now, if this has been a habit of yours all year do the opposite – turn it off or discover new genres in shows.
  • Take a sick day. Yep. Call in sick on a day that you will be the only one home. Enjoy the day without guilt and love it!

Once you decompress and let go, you can look forward to the New Year and plan your growth. That’s what I do every year both in my personal and professional life. It’s not easy for me to sit back and relax; in fact it’s a struggle but I need to do it. It really helps to clear out the old to focus on the new. Try it!

Don't Stand So Close To Me!

"Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them" - John C Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Alison Christine via Compfight

I admit it - I am a plant snob. I think that the arrival of Spring may bring the worst out of me. Why? Spring is a prime planting time for trees and shrubs. Everyone has been locked up all winter and we are craving to get outside to clean winter up. Nurseries are bursting with new trees and shrubs and  we start planting. Unfortunately, too many people don't like reading plant tags or asking questions of experienced nurserymen. What we often get is trouble....

As I drive around neighborhoods, my attention is always drawn to the trees and shrubs that are planted in front yards. Often, I itch to take a picture of a picturesque and stately tree standing proudly in a yard. It's presence sets the house off . Likewise, I also find myself wanting to stop and save the world by cutting down some "mis-planted" trees or shrubs. When I see trees planted too close to a house I just want to start singing the old Police song "Don't stand so close to me".

There is a new housing development a few miles from us. The houses are beautiful with some interesting exterior accents that makes each one unique. Last Spring I watched the progression of some landscaping slowly being placed in one particular yard. Obviously by the homeowners. They planted some nice weeping Cherry and Pear trees. They also added some thin lush evergreens - ALL planted about 3 feet from the house! In just a few years these cute weeping specimens will be 10+ feet tall and leaning as they grown into the house. The nice vision of a professionally landscaped yard in the mind of the new homeowners will be a "Tree Armageddon"!

Please...Your trees are begging you to not plant SO close to you!

Planting trees and larger shrubs too close to a house is tempting. You see a cute little tree in front of you and know that it will look perfect right by the house. Generally, you don't need to remove any existing grass or other plants. It's quick and easy. It looks great. Wait! What looks awesome  now can end up costing you thousands of dollars in 5 years and a lot of hard work hours to fix. Below is what planting that cute little tree can cost you......

  • Damaged foundation as the tree roots grow into the structure of your home
  • Cracked driveway and sidewalks as roots crack it with growth
  • Storm damage as tree branches crack and damage roofs, windows, gutters
  • Cost to trim or remove large branches near a house
  • Windows or doors become covered and offer a great place for the bad guys to hide
  • Power lines are threatened by overgrown branches
  • Tree roots can grow into septic tanks and sprinkler lines
  • Plumbing issues
  • Scraggly looking trees that struggle who grow without room to spread
  • Animals will love you for providing a way for them to get onto your roof and into your house
  • In some ares that are plagued by Termites you are giving them a great home - right next to yours!
  • Snow damage will break branches - right onto your house
  • Drainage issues
Is that new little tree of yours cute enough to plant close? I don't think so either! Read tags and do your research before planting. Look on the Internet for mature tree growth and height. Ask experienced gardeners or nurserymen for advice. Visualize what your house will look like 10 years from now. Aim to plant compact and narrow trees. Some trees can be planted just a mere few feet from your home. For most, keep them 15 feet from light poles and a good 10 feet from cement. Plan, plan, plan. Don't be singing the Police song in a few years!

Leaders! Don't "stand" too close to your people!

Your people are your foundation and like trees planted right next to a home, standing too close can be dangerous. Managers shouldn't allow themselves to favor certain employees. You can't allow the emotion of being close to your people to cloud your perception and muddle your judgment. Leadership means always walking a fine line between being caring and compassionate to your team and being able to make the best decisions for the whole. Keep your roots firmly planted, but leave room for growth for your people. To do so, you must keep your space. Don't plant yourself too close as it can damage your "foundation":

  • Be personal and approachable but don't be IN your team's personal life
  • Be helpful and supportive but don't be the "personal" problem solver
  • Value people and make them feel a part of the team but don't go overboard
  • Don't ever lose your objectivity
  • Maintain enough "distance" to be an effective manager
  • Be fair with everyone, all the time
  • Don't allow favoritism on the part of anyone on your team. Never allow yourself to develop it either
  • Developing healthy feeling for your team is critical but don't allow them to affect your decision making ability
  • If you become too close to your team and are their "bud" you will never be able to discipline them
  • Your team members are NOT your friends
  • Favoring anyone just once may lead to rumors and signal a lack of your leadership abilities
  • Your employees are like your children in many ways. You want to be there for them as they grow and you love leading them to new opportunities. You are still their "parent" and need to set boundaries and stand by them

Whether you are a homeowner or leading people, you should think ahead and be careful how close you plant your roots. Being too close over a period of time will stifle growth and have costs down the road. Allow your "trees" plenty of room to grow and flourish without becoming too involved. The results will be rewarding years from now when you look back and see what you  have created and how it has grown!

Photo courtesy of Jervetson via Compfight

Plant Yourself Somewhere Else and Thrive!

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant".
~Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672, Colonial American poet)

Photo Courtesy of AV Design via Compfight

Earlier this week, I threw in the towel and admitted to myself that Spring is still a long way off. I took some defensive action. I renewed my lapsed membership to our local botanical and sculpture park garden in West Michigan. I need to feel some moist humidity and light on my face. I want to smell some clean, moist dirt. I want to bask in the various flower smells. It revitalizes me and really gets my creative juices flowing. When I'm in a peaceful place with the sights and smells of plants, I begin to feel renewed and relaxed. Maybe I will make it until Spring!

I'm fortunate to live near one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the United States. Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is one of hundreds of unique and esteemed gardens available to visit. These parks offer more than just plants and a winter escape. Each one is unique in it's offerings and no two are exactly alike. Even people who don't dig gardening will find something to appreciate. Specifically, Meijer Gardens regularly hosts unique and worldly sculpture and art exhibits both inside and out. They can be appreciated while walking through winding trails and flowing gardens. Next month brings our annual "Butterflies are Blooming" exhibit. Starting next week visitors can literally sit and watch a variety of tropical butterflies slowly climb out of their delicate cocoons.The real magic is experiencing hundreds of butterflies floating in the air. It's magical and such a delight when one lands on your hand. The Chicago Botanical Gardens is famous for their plant trials. They put new cultivers through some tough trials to see which ones come out on top according to their criteria. The winners are then introduced to the public for sale. You can be assured that if a plant has passed their test, it's a winner and should be in your garden.

Here's what else you can experience at the various botanical gardens around the country:
  • Garden education and horticultural certification
  • Annual plant sales with new and recently introduced plants
  • Volunteer opportunities 
  • World renowned speakers and lectures (not just about plants!)
  • Children's gardens that offer hands on learning and activities
  • Art exhibitions
  • Outside summer concerts
  • Sustainable farming techniques and organic gardens
  • Test gardens 
  • Showcasing  tree varieties and bonsai  that are hundreds of years old
  • Koi water gardens
  • Holiday light and tree displays
  • Beautiful venues for wedding and corporate events
  • Research
  • Butterflies and bugs
The list goes on and on. Google your state and you may be surprised how many gardens there are near you. They are jewels tucked away that you never knew existed. A visit to any of these gardens is guaranteed to lighten your mood, clear your mind, and give you a fresh perspective. All near your own backyard. If you need a change and a quick getaway - run to the nearest botanical garden!

Photo Courtesy of Tony Hall via Compfight

For those of us in cold states, this hasn't been an easy winter. It seems like the snow will never melt and the sun is playing hide and seek. Driving has been a nightmare and the cold is taxing. Multiply this energy zapper with the stress of work and family responsibilities and you may feel like a tightly bound ball of yarn. The human mind is a special, wondrous organ. It can make us feel drained and stressed out or relaxed and carefree. In times of stress your mind becomes tense and may tend to blank out. It needs something to spark creativity and get the juices flowing. It needs YOU to escape and bring it somewhere else so that it can relax, open up, and reboot. 

If you can't take off and go to a botanical garden to rejuvenate and flex your mind, perhaps just leaving work and landing anywhere else will. Get away from work distractions and the same old routine. Forge out for some new scenery and wake up your brain. How about working at a coffee shop for a bit? Experience a new place, new faces, great coffee with snacks, and free Internet.You may be surprised what a difference this will make when you need to concentrate or innovate.

Coffee shops are interesting places. Aside from the fun in watching people, these shops allow you to take in new sights, sounds, and scents. Your mind rewinds itself and reboots. It loves all the new stimuli that you are offering up. None of your coworkers will barge in unannounced. Your boss can't find you (or your spouse if you are self employed!). The hum of the background conversations is relaxing. OK, so is listening in on the conversations of others but I digress. A lot of entrepreneurs and sales people find solace and relaxation working out of coffee houses and many even build lasting work relationships with each other. 

Here's why you occasionally  need to plant yourself somewhere else other than your desk to work:

  • A change of environment is emotionally healthy. We know that a change in sights and sounds is music to your brain. Feed it with new tunes!
  • Just plunking yourself down in a sea of new colors and textures to work will make a difference. Most coffee shops know the value of a warming fireplace and leather chairs for customers.
  • You will be more relaxed jumping out of your usual element.
  • Fewer distractions. Being anonymous means people will generally leave you alone. Avoiding eye contact will lower your chances of being bothered.
  • You can meet new people and may even find some new opportunities!
  • Your mind will welcome the opportunity to boost it's memory capacity. It will reward you with more creativity and your thoughts will have fewer constraints and rules.
  • As we said earlier, new background noise will help you focus and block panicky thoughts or hectic feelings.
  • You will be more energized just being away from structure and the drone of meetings.
  • Your attitude will completely change and you will have a badly needed attitude adjustment. 
  • You will look at things with a new perspective and be more appreciative of your colleagues and work when you return to the office.
I work in an open office environment and I love it! After years in my own solo office, it's a refreshing change and I love the hum of activity and voices around me. Sometimes though, I do need to get away somewhere quiet to think and organize my thoughts. Even just trotting to a conference room makes a world of difference. A change in the environment sparks the wires in my brain and I'm off and thinking. I have some self employed friends that literally spend half of their working time in a coffee shop. They need the noise and camaraderie that they just can't get from working at home. They feel vitalized and connected. They have strengthened some friendships and brought in new business. The coffee house breathes life into their work and helps them to succeed.

Where do you plant yourself to get your brain thinking and to revitalize yourself??? 
Photo Courtesy of AV Design via Compfight

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.