Problem #2 with plants


Not like us

Plants are strange and curious beings. They silently carry on growing about their business, wholly inscrutable. Obdurate. Aloof. To put it simply, plants are like aliens.

They talk like aliens. They move like aliens. They think like aliens. Wait, didn’t we just say that plants are boring because they don’t talk, move or think?

They don’t talk? Yet they both lure and repel insects as it suits them. They attract sexual matchmakers to carry their pollen and seeds. How do you accomplish that without communicating?

They don’t move? Yet they climb and dig and stretch and regenerate themselves. They find ways to send their children great distances, even across vast oceans. Plants do indeed move, in mysterious ways.

They don’t think? Yet there is scarcely a more single-minded thing on the planet. They surely seem motivated to grow, and they demonstrate an uncanny intelligence, unconscious and devoid of reason though it may be. They are resourceful, finding for themselves water, nutrients and compatible neighbors and life-partners.

Listen, let’s not get carried away. This isn’t The Secret Life of Plants or anything. If you don’t know, that’s a book from the 70’s notorious for it’s psuedo-scientific theory that we can communicate with plants. The authors hooked plants up to lie detectors in an attempt to read their emotions. That’s all bunk.

I’m not saying, “Plants are people too.” That’s precisely what I’m not saying. They aren’t people. They aren’t anything like people. If they were, we could understand them. But they’re aliens.

And these alien life-forms have a lot going on. You may think botanists have all of this figured out. Surely, scientists have broken the “plant-code.” We know what’s going on, right? We can explain it all. You know, this enzyme combines with that hormone to produce some complicated organic chemistry action.

Surprise. The reality is we can—at best—carry on a conversation with plants at a remedial level. Something along the lines of, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” There’s more that we don’t know than what we do know.

How are we to overcome this divide? How can we hope to understand these mute aliens that live among us? Research—always more science—is one path. Philosophy is another. (But didn’t we say we would avoid making this boring?) Practical experience—you know, actually getting your hands dirty by gardening in your yard or on your balcony—is perhaps the most accessible and essential way to understand plants. That’s where I hope we end up, but it’s not where we need to begin.

Not “How to”

Most plant books are “How-To” books. This isn’t. It’s a Why-To book. It’s a book about ideas. You’re not going to invest your time, money or energy into discovering the power of plants unless you first believe there really is some power behind these aliens—and you desire to have it for yourself.

I’m not going to throw a ton of science and research at you in an attempt to sound smart and thereby prove my points. I’m going to use something far more frivolous, yet a lot more fun: our imaginations. Let’s tell stories and dream up odd little idea-pictures. Let’s look at plants in a whole new way. Let’s find a short-cut.

We’ve already begun.

Listen, it’s obvious and trite to say, “Plants are not like us.” Duh. No kidding. So what?

Here’s how my mind works: normal, obvious and traditional things lead me to dead ends. There no where to go after you say, “Plants aren’t like us.” And my mind wants to go somewhere. It doesn’t like dead ends.

But introduce aliens? Plants are like aliens? Cool. That is not a dead end. That’s like one of those cap guns going off at a track meet. My mind can race along quite happily now. It’s a path I can follow.

And here’s where I go. Ready?

If plants are aliens, they are not invaders. We are. This is their planet, not ours. They were here first.

And these aliens are not the scary, creepy kind. They’re more like ET. They’re nice.

Sure, a few can be deadly. Some may get prickly if you get too close, but the vast majority are stoically servile. They support us. They carry us. Feed us. Breathe life into our lungs. We’d be dead without them.

Let’s review

These alien beings we depend upon are both kind and beautiful. They are also boring and dull. But it’s all just an act. They simply want us to think they’re dumb and pretty. They’re actually up to some pretty big things that could have a huge impact on your community, your life and the entire planet we call earth.


Perhaps you’re already deeply, madly in love with plants. Maybe you’re some kind of plant-whisperer. Boring? Plants aren’t boring! They fascinate you. They aren’t aliens! These are your familiar friends.

You may be thinking, “If this guy finds plants to be so boring and strange, why in the world is he writing a book about them?”

That’s a fair question. Sadly, it has an ugly answer.



Problem #1 with plants

comotose-beauty-bigComatose Beauty

What if Sleeping Beauty never woke up? Nobody would watch that film, no matter how attractive or talented the star actress might be. It would be boring.

Let’s face it: plants are boring too, and in the same exact way that an eternally sleeping beauty is boring.

You walk past a rose bush on your lunch break and you barely notice because it’s not blooming. A week later, you it is. But it hasn’t truly awakened, not like Briar Rose does. Yes, our rose may be more beautiful now, but she’ll never kiss you back.

This is a book I am writing about plants. But plants don’t talk. They don’t move. They don’t think. They are comatose.

Those are some tough handicaps to overcome for our leading lady. This is a problem—a serious problem—you should want resolved. How on earth will we get though a whole book about plants without falling asleep?

Here’s the good news: there’s a whole lot going on that we don’t notice. If we set a camera in front of our rose bush and record one frame every hour and then replay the frames back at 24 frames per second, we would see a much different reality. We would see a dance. The flower breathes as it opens up—not brazenly all at once—but shyly in pulses and waves. It’s sensual.

Here’s some even better news for you: I’m easily bored. Consequently, I may be wrong or silly or offensive—but I’m seldom boring. I’ll feed your brain the entertainment it craves. I will cast plants into unexpected roles, revealing, as the time-lapse trickery does, the power and benefits of plants. I will amuse while forcing you to muse.

There. We’ve dealt with problem number one. Plants are boring, but that’s mostly our own fault. Not to worry, however, we can trick our brains into making plants fascinating and, perhaps, funny.

But our second problem is far more frightening.


Just a pretty face?

rose-by-mucha-drawShe’s been lying to you. She’s not who she appears to be. How well do you really know her?

What’s the nature of your relationship? Are you lovers or just old friends? Intimate roommates or simply friendly neighbors? Well, no matter. It doesn’t change the truth. She has deceived you.

Didn’t you always suspect she was hiding secrets behind that sweet face of hers? Sure, she’s pretty. I’ll give you that. She’s downright gorgeous, really. But it’s all a façade, a lovely illusion.

There’s a lot more going on.

She distracts you. She flashes her beauty, and you’re dazzled, misled by a false immodesty. Intoxicated, enchanted, you miss what’s happening under the surface.

She is far more than just a pretty face. Do you know what she’s up to when you’re not looking?

Okay, don’t panic. She doesn’t hate you. She’s not betraying you. She’s not evil. In fact, it appears that everything she’s been doing—and it’s a whole lot—is really good stuff. Like “save the world” type of stuff.

Are you ready for this? She’s kind of a superhero—like the mild-mannered reporter nobody suspects is also the guy flying around in a cape, or the ditzy fashion-model who’s actually a devilishly shrewd secret agent.

She has these mysterious—I don’t know what to call them—abilities? Powers? I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. You haven’t noticed because she’s hidden them extremely well, in plain sight.

What? No, I’m not talking about the girl. I’m talking about the plants. This is a book about their hidden powers and the amazing things they do when we aren’t looking.

This is a book I am writing about plants, which presents us—straightaway—with two big problems.


A different shade of green

Art-as-Boy-in-GreenhouseI was probably about seven or eight years old. My father stood at the door of a greenhouse full of Ilex. He stared straight ahead and asked me, “What color do you see?”


He nodded. “I see green, too.” He turned and looked me in the eye. “But I don’t see the same green you see. I see dollar-bill-green.” He took off down the narrow aisleway of the house, and I had to scramble to keep up. “Most people are in this business because they love plants, not because they love business.”

“But you love business?” I asked.

My father stopped in his tracks. “Darn right, I do. I appreciate plants and I like working with them, but if you can’t see past the green of the leaf to see the green of the money, you’ll never really succeed.”

I have since heard more than one nursery owner say things like that, but I think my father coined the phrase. At least, to me, it will always be his original thought and one of his defining character traits. I grew up realizing our company did not grow plants because they were pretty things that we love, but because they had value…and that the customer defines the value. We don’t grow a certain variety because we, as growers, like it or are interested in it or think it has merit. We only grow what our customers want; not what we want.

My father was always pretty critical of “hobbyists,” the growers who gushed and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over this cultivar or that. They were plant collectors, distracted and obsessed with the new and exotic just because they were new and exotic. Plant collecting, like any collecting, is a fine thing to do. But it’s no way to run a business. It’s not the way to make money with plants.

Time to grow up

Now, I’m the father. I’m the CEO, and it’s my turn to share business insights with my kids—and with you, too, I suppose.

Why? Why publish my thoughts here? All across the green industry—from growers to retailers to landscapers—there’s a wave of change. I see a young generation right behind me that will have to reinvent their businesses and rediscover how to make money with plants. I also see a generation approaching retirement, and they desperately want the next generation to succeed.

I see my peers and—more importantly—my customers facing a world that has already changed and is still changing quickly. It appears we, as a whole interconnected group, lack the required business acumen to really thrive in the midst of this change. This leaves us vulnerable to others who do have business acumen. And these people are probably not in our industry. They are not not nice people. They are not our friends. They were suits and they “do deals” and they like mergers and they love to bankrupt lives and industries. And they don’t believe in the power of plants.

The Passion Paradox

Which brings us full circle. Growing plants improves the world. We make homes and communities more beautiful, healthier and just a better place to live. Plants bring peace and joy and so many other “hidden harvests” we could scarcely count them all. We are NOT talking about producing toner cartridges here. Not all things are created equal. Plants are special.

To grow plants, we must make a profit. Which means we must prioritize profit over the plants themselves. But if you  are only concerned with profit, we could turn into greedy suits and forget the whole purpose of plants and all their “hidden harvests.” Must we choose between friendly plants and heartless capitalism? No way.

Please don’t think we need “balance.” I hate that word. Balance is bunk. We don’t need “balance.” We need purpose, to be totally imbalanced in the right direction, and able to shift our balance to get where we want to go.

The word we need is “purpose,” not “balance.” We are growing plants for a purpose. I want to make money on purpose, not by happy accident.

And I see far too many of us struggling. I see far too many busy, busy landscapers working themselves into the ground simply hoping that when things slow down in the winter they will have enough money to pay all their bills and maybe a little left over to take a vacation.

I see far too many of us working very hard for the wrong color green.


Turn it up

From the book “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Turn-It-UpCan you control the energy level in your business or organization? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just dial up the passion and enthusiasm? Well, guess what? You can. Okay, maybe you don’t have direct control over every other person on your team, but you do have total control over yourself. You can decide how much energy you bring with you to work every single day.

You’ll find that energy, like electricity, flows. It doesn’t stand still. It starts a chain reaction. Positive or negative, your attitude is contagious; it will spread to those around you. Show up in the morning pumped up and brimming with positive energy, and everyone you come in contact with will be affected. Attitude changes everything.

How do you bring energy? It’s not always obvious how best to go about turning up the passion and energy. First, you can’t fake it. Insincere enthusiasm is for televangelists. Be genuine. Tricks and manipulations are for losers.

Get excited. It’s okay to shout a little and to jump up and down. Passion has a hard time sitting still. Move! And do it quickly, too. Energized people run or dance or skip; they don’t stroll.

No complaining. I’m not big on rules, but you need to silence the complainers. Shut them down. You’re at war with negative energy, whether you realize it or not.

Get close. Others can’t see, hear or feel your passion quite as well at a distance. Keep your team close. Stay tight. Turn it up!


Speak up

From the book “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Speak-Up“Well done is better than well said.”
—Benjamin Franklin

Highly upward people are more likely to DO than to TALK about doing, but they don’t ignore their responsibility to speak up when the time is right. As we have seen in the other “ups,” everything you do shows others what you value and how you think.

Looking up speaks. It says, “I care about you. I am involved and engaged.”

Showing up speaks. It says, “I want to be here. This is the most important place I can be right now.”

Stepping up speaks. It says: “I want to make a difference. I care about the outcome. I am invested.”

Listening up speaks. It says, “I care about the people in my life. I want to understand them.”

You can’t show up late, stare at the floor, lurk in the background and then decide to speak up. “Hey, everybody! Follow me!”

You don’t get to do that, even if you sign the checks and your name is on the sign outside. The previous “ups” are the entrance fee, your ticket to speak. You may have the freedom of speech, but you gotta pay to be heard. You pay by looking up, showing up and stepping up.

Actions are not enough

While actions may speak louder than words, they do not replace them. Words are essential. They are like seeds. They are the carriers of ideas. Words are your tools to express your desires, to influence others and to change the world.

Words are very powerful. They can bring hope and they can inspire, but they can also tear down and destroy. You must learn to use your words wisely.

Is it better to be silent?

Silence is often a sign of wisdom. Consider these proverbs: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”

When in doubt, keep your mouth shut. But don’t allow discretion to excuse timidity. Show restraint, not fear. Speaking up doesn’t mean being an obnoxious loud-mouth. You shouldn’t babble on like a fool, but you must be ready to speak when the time is right. Leaders aren’t afraid to break the silence.

Call it like you see it

Upward people aren’t bashful about speaking up when they see a problem. I have been famous for saying, “That ain’t no deal.” You have to realize that ignoring bad deals doesn’t help people, and it’s not honest. Saying nothing is like saying, “I approve. I see nothing wrong. Sounds good to me.” If you can’t honestly say that, then you have to speak up.

Others might not want to listen because it makes them uncomfortable or feel bad, but you should care for their long-term good more than you care about their temporary comfort and immediate self-esteem.

It’s important to remember that you can only “call it like you see it” after you have done the other “ups.” Your judgment will only be sound if you have first listened and understood the situation fully. Your opinion will only be valued if you have shown that you care deeply and are committed to helping others. Nobody enjoys a drive-by. It may seem courageous and bold, but it is the opposite. Criticizing on your way out the door is the act of a coward.

Ask questions

“Are there any questions?” If you pay attention, you’ll hear this a lot—at meetings, conferences, schoolrooms and factory tours.

Be ready. Have a question. Hey, you know it’s coming. You took the effort to show up, to listen up, to study up, and maybe even to step up. Don’t miss the opportunity to speak up when the floor is open to questions.

When someone’s speaking, you should be asking yourself the whole time, “What are they leaving out? What assumptions are they making that may not be accurate?” Be curious; don’t just passively take things exactly as they are.

Speak up! Too often, when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” they’re met by a bunch of blank stares and shrugging shoulders.

What? No questions? What’s wrong with you? I’m always full of questions, and you should be too if you want to be a highly upward leader. Not having questions is like saying you don’t really care. Not speaking up is like saying, “I have nothing to add. I don’t really offer any value here.”

Stupid questions

Have you ever heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question?” That may be true, but we do hear things that can seem pretty stupid. Things like, “Are you sleeping?” or “What time does the 4:00 show start?” or “What’s Bob’s first name?” Sometimes stupid questions are really just careless questions, and sometimes they are actually really intelligent questions in disguise. Does the 4:00 show start on time or are there ten minutes of previews? What time do the doors close? Is his name really Bob or is it Robert?

I think it’s more accurate to say, “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” Sometimes the things others take for granted are just plain wrong. The simplest observations can be profound.

Galileo wondered if the world might be round instead of flat. People thought he was crazy. Newton pondered why the apple fell from the tree instead of floating up in the air. What a crazy thing to ask!

You don’t have to be a brilliant scientist to ask penetrating questions. You just have to be observant and have the guts to speak up. It doesn’t matter how important you are. It doesn’t matter if you are officially the leader. Remember, it took the innocence of a child to question the obvious, “Why is the Emperor not wearing any clothes?”

Benefit others

Others benefit when you ask questions. It’s obvious to see. They’re standing there just numbly taking the world at face value. The tour guide in your group asks, “Are there any questions?” and they stare blankly. They blink. “Questions? Huh? What are we talking about? How could the world be any different than what you just said?”

These people need to be shaken awake. They need someone to speak up and ask something, anything, so that they can start to use their brains again. Their brains are good, when they use them. Good questions spark great conversations.

The most important reason to speak up

Why do you want to speak up? If all you wanna do is share your brilliant opinions with the world, take a number. It ain’t all about you.

The most important time to speak up is not when you’ll be popular or celebrated for it. “Oh, he’s so smart!” It’s not when you’ll get your way or somehow benefit or profit from influencing others. Speak up when others are in need, when the powerless suffer an injustice, when the marginalized and forgotten are without an advocate.

There is no greater way to use your freedom of speech than to speak up for others who cannot speak for themselves.

Build ’em up

When speaking up, watch what you say and how you say it. Don’t be abusive; don’t be a bully.

Compliment at least as much as you criticize. Don’t be stingy with your praise. And never miss a chance to say, “I love you.”


Study up

From the book “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Study-UpSimply showing up may be enough to squeak by, but you don’t want to do the minimum. You need to show up ready. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”

It’s not easy to plan ahead, to prepare, to study. It’s not easy to concentrate, but anybody can do it.

In college sports, there are rules about how often teams can practice, but in real life there’s no penalty for preparing more than the competition does.

The thing I love about studying is it helps the dummy more than the genius, because smart people don’t think they need to study. With preparation, a hard worker of average intelligence can outperform an Einstein any day.

“I shoulda said…”

Have you ever left an argument only to realize an hour later what you should have said? On the other hand, some people appear to be “quick on their feet.” Their responses to the unexpected are so swift that observers marvel, “How’d they do that?”

I think the difference is due more to preparation than intelligence. Snappy answers come automatically to those who have invested time studying, carefully thinking about the subject. They know at a glance what it is they are looking at and what they think about it. They don’t have to think about it because they’ve already done the thinking.

If you’re gifted with a fast wit, if you pick up on things with ease, if you are good at playing catch-up, then you should be very careful. Don’t let your natural ability fool you into thinking you don’t have to study up. I have served on boards and committees for various volunteer organizations and associations. Once, I was on the board of directors for a national association. All of us on the board were owners of pretty large, successful businesses. We were all top performers, dynamic leaders, effective managers. We knew how to get things done.

Or, that’s how it should have been. After a few meetings, I began to wonder if some of my fellow board members could even organize a picnic. Before every meeting, the association staff would send us a large binder stuffed with an agenda and tons of reports. I’d show up at the meeting, with my binder under my arm, my head full of knowledge as I’d flip through my highlighted notes…but only a few of us had even bothered to read the reports! It drove me crazy, but then, I guess I drove them insane too.

Don’t be the person who shows up without a clue. Study Up instead, and you’ll run circles around all the other clueless people.


Look up

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Look-Up2You can only go where your eyes lead you, so look up!

All the time, I see people with their heads down. They’re looking at the floor, their feet, their iPhones. They’ve withdrawn from the world.

You’ve got to pick your head up! When you do, you’ll find your physical posture has a big impact on your mental posture.

Look people in the eye! This is so important. I never want to hire someone who won’t look me in the eye when I’m talking to them. What are they hiding? Pick your head up in interviews and meetings, during sales calls and family dinners.

Experts say non-verbal communication is more powerful than the actual words we say to each other. Shrugs, hand gestures, eye movements and smiles, how can you read any of ’em if you aren’t looking?

And what are you communicating to others when your head is down? “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be involved.”

The phrase, “Things are looking up,” is synonymous with optimism for good reason. When you look up, it has a powerful effect. You suddenly begin to see opportunities. Mysteries are revealed. Connections are made.

It’s so easy to do. Anybody can look up, but if it doesn’t come naturally, you’ll need to practice at it. You need discipline.

Keep reminding yourself: “Look up!”


7 Habits of Highly Upward People

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

SEVEN-HABITS-3Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda

How’s that for a catchy name? Charles Grigg launched a new soft drink by that name in 1929, just two weeks before Wall Street’s “Black Tuesday” crash sparked the Great Depression. Sure sounds like the drink was doomed to failure, doesn’t it?

But it’s where you go that matters, not where or how you start. And it’s never too late to turn a loser into a winner. Mr. Grigg changed the name of his drink to 7UP, and the rest is history.

Simple decisions can have big impacts.

Let’s get practical

Ready to get busy? Do you want to know where to start right this moment making decisions that will build your success? Here we go. I’ve got seven “ups” to share with you.

Whether you’re leading a company or a Sunday school class, here are some dirt-simple choices you can make today—right now—that are guaranteed to succeed. They aren’t difficult; you don’t need any special skills to implement these. You can get started right away.

But while these “seven habits of highly upward people” aren’t complicated or theoretical, they aren’t all that easy either. Just because anybody can do them doesn’t mean that many people do. That’s why they are so powerful.

And no matter how well you think you’re doing, you can always do better!