Where Is Your Line In The Sand?

"It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe" - Robert W. Service

Amazingly a variety of plants love sand!


As I write this, I am at the beach and can hear the gentle waves of Lake Michigan hit the sandy shores. The sun is hazy and the clouds are like streaks in the light winds. Lake Michigan is no small lake. It’s huge and can be ferocious. It’s always interesting to see the expression on visitor’s faces because they are usually surprised by the size of the lake. The Great Lakes are all interconnected and are one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world.

I’m fortunate to have grown up at my Mom’s cottage every summer on the beach. I have seen the beach line come and go. Cottages have fallen in because of the high waters. Then the water levels decreased and we were next welcomed with mounds of sand and dunes abound. Did I mention that there’s a lot of sand? When you stay at the beach you get accustomed to sand being everywhere and soon find that it’s even OK to sleep in – you just can’t escape it!
One of my favorite and most dreaded parts of the beach is the dune grass. It grows everywhere and literally dances in the North wind. I remember as a child helping to plant it on our dune at the cottage to try to establish the grass on the hill to help stop erosion. I also remember careless neighbors accidentally starting the grass on fire and soon we were all rushing to put out the entire hill that was enflamed.  Beach grass can literally help grow a dune with its deep roots and strong stems. It also hurts like hell when you step on it with bare feet! Beach goers beware! Even more impressive than the grasses is the number of plants that can actually grow happily side by side next to the grass. As a gardener, it can be baffling at times. 

Sand is essentially large particles that are very solid and differ from dirt in that they have no pockets where water and nutrients can get stuck. No nutrients or water means that plants have to work harder for both life sustaining substances. I have been amazed what sand gardeners can grow by adding copious amounts of compost, some fertilizer, raised beds, and water. Many plants will adapt. With water shortages all over the country we will all need to adapt as well. Mother Nature is in many ways drawing a line in the sand that we will all need to abide by – less water, adaptive plants.
Don’t despair if you have sand or even sandy soil. Some plants love the fast drainage and once established they may need very little water.  I was surprised when our neighbor at the lake planted Hydrangeas in the sand with some dirt and they flourished. I thought that they would die within weeks and they easily flower with some supplemental water. Below are some plants that appreciate sand. Check with your local Extension program for more. Plants for Sand

·         Rugosa Roses
·         Cleome
·         Yarrow
·         Cosmos
·         Eastern White Pine
·         Red Cedar
·         Ginkgo
·         Pea shrub
·         Witch Hazel
·         Broom
·         Smoke Tree
·         Cactus
·         Crape Myrtle
·         Wild Irish Rose
·         Quince
·         Yucca 

Be daring and look beyond the sand at what can be. With some pre-work and planning you can draw a line in the sand and plant the garden of your dreams. Don’t allow a grain of sand or two stop you.
"It draws a line in the sand. Once you cross it, you can't go back" - Greil Marcus
Photo via Rowlandrose via

Just as the lines in gardening can become blurred so too can the lines at work.  The other day a friend and I were lamenting about when we joined banking as manager trainees fresh out of college. The lines of authority (and dress!) were very strict and obvious. You quickly knew your boundaries and were reminded almost weekly where the line was that you had better not cross. The leadership style was “my way or the highway” not to mention autocratic. Managers hung out with managers and the trainees knew that we had better stick on our side of the room. 

Things sure have changed.  Leadership has become more servant and collaborative focused. Managers are more human and show feelings. They share the good and bad and it’s acceptable to be human. I love the new leadership that we all benefit from now. It’s refreshing and real. People respect the concept of leadership more and we all benefit from open cultures, positive rapport, higher morale, and effective productivity. It beats the old days in banking!

The new leadership has also confused things a bit as well. Most managers are less autocratic and friendlier. They take an interest in their teams. Many have forged strong relationships with their people. This new style is progressive and enables people to come to work every day with a more positive outlook and attitude. It also presents a dilemma for some managers. How close is too close when interacting with your team? Where is the ultimate line in the sand between being a manager and an office friend? How do you avoid being friendly and open without being a “friend” or appearing to give preferential treatment to certain members of your team? It’s tough. 

Many of the traits that great leaders have mirror those of your best friend. Consider the traits below and recognize those that are your friendship gifts.  

·         Selfless and concerned for others. They enjoy bringing the best out of others
·         They are loyal , committed, and responsible
·         Honest and upfront
·         Trusting and open
·         Equal  with give and take in a relationship
·         Compassionate
·         Uplifting and empowering

Does this sound like some of your best friendships? It should! You can be a great leader with friendship characteristics. There are some areas where you may need to drawn a line and keep your distance to remain a strong and fair manager. Here are examples of where to draw the line: 

·         Redefine friendship across the board. It doesn’t need to mean phone chats, drinks, and sharing secrets. The best friendships include little to none of this!
·         Don’t connect via social media other than on LinkedIn
·         Be transparent and realistic and always remain in control and “the manager” in your mind
·         Don’t become chat or bar buddies with any of your team
·         Remain social but draw the line when it becomes more homebound or with a small group of people on your team, not everyone
·         Never develop favoritism
·         Don’t fake relationships or being a friend
·         Remain confidential and closed mouth. Never give in to temptation to share information that you shouldn’t
·         Keep relationships clearly defined and even keeled
·         Be friendly but don’t be “the” friend
No one ever said that leadership would be easy. It involves being an encourager, coach, confidant, teacher, and relationship master. Be friendly, but always be careful not to cross the line. Have you ever been in a situation where you crossed the line and realized it too late or stirred the pot? I would love to hear from you!

Let Your Creativity Lead you!


"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things" - Steve Jobs

One of my favorite things to learn more about is the power of creativity. Creativity is the core of new ideas, inventions, artistic careers, openness, and happiness. I love to try and keep the creativity spark alive in my boys and I shutter at how both schools and society shun "dreamers". We are all creative, we just have to open ourselves up to what is around us and allow what we see, touch, hear, and smell to create new ideas and thoughts. Yes, even YOU are creative. It's hogwash that there are people out there without a creative bone in their body You just need to seek it out a bit harder.

Last week I talked about "repurposing" junk into garden art and people whom we can create anew with a fresh look. What they both have in common is the fact that it takes some creativity and a fresh way of looking at things to bring new life to either one. A garden is a fresh palate from which we can personalize and transfer our dreams onto. The same applies to us as people. We are unique slates that are open to evolving and taking on new colors.

Gardening and arts of different genres are a great way to discover and expand your creativity. It means taking snippets of things that you have seen and heard and putting them together in a unique way. Even if you love and excel at fixing things, building engines, or computing, you ARE using your creativity. You don't need to be a painter or sculptor in order to be an "artist" or creative. I consider myself pretty high on the creativity meter because I risk placing different colors, textures, and different plants together. I'm willing to build a wacky piece of garden art out of junk. I would love to get my hands on a life size mannequin because I have some unique ideas that I could build a garden around with it.

Creativity is what you want and feel is truly "creative", not others. It's what makes you an individual and builds your unique gifts. Sharing your creativity can be a bit more tricky. You need to have conviction, yet be open to other ideas or to tweaking your suggestions. If we keep our creativity bottled up and stay with the status quo, we would never have any of the technology or breakthroughs that happen every day at today's immense pace. Pick a hobby or something that you are passionate about and open your mind and eyes to what you can do differently. Take risks, be bold, and be willing to take a stab at changing the world.

Creatives are abound in all business sectors and companies, large and small. The key is that some industries and companies are more open to new ideas and encourage creativity and collaboration for growth and innovation. People tend to grow and enjoy their work more when they feel valued and encouraged to share their ideas. They thrive and feel a part of something bigger than them. We all want to feel like we are making a difference and that someone cares what we think and accepts what we can offer. Is your company a "Creatives" focused company? If not - find one that is or be active in changing the norms.

Photo Courtesy of Cayusa via

 Even if you aren't a leader in title where you work, you can still be an influencer and  have an impact. There are a lot of things that you or your team can do to encourage creativity and the open sharing of ideas. Here are some suggestions:

  • Search out new opportunities, experiences, and see things with a different perspective
  • Challenge yourself by setting higher personal goals, brainstorm more, and really focus on developing new ideas
  • Hang out with a different crowd of people. You will be surprised what you learn! You become who you are with
  • Find a department or manager that truly appreciates your efforts and sees failures as lessons
  • Look beyond what something is and imagine what it could be
  • Read read read read read!
  • Redefine problems in a new way or try to solve them backwards
  • Experience everything new in life that you can. You will trigger new connections in your brain and open up your mind
  • Look for new patterns, try to reinvent the status quo or envision it in a new view
  • Don't try to be someone else or turn your team into a group mini "You's"
  • Ask a lot of questions all the time. Don't be afraid of looking stupid. You want to learn and understand all that you can
  • See if you can be given some resources to focus on ideas outside of your realm at work. Great companies encourage pet projects and have seen some unique innovations
  • Be you. Love you. Grow you!

I'm so excited to see that companies are finally seeing the value of encouraging creativity and innovation in their people. In many companies , the value of creativity is ranked higher than intelligence, a global mindset, and experience.

How can you breath some creativity into your career or those that you lead?

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