Grand Heron International

Close this search box.

Green Thumbs and Thoughts

I used to say “I do not do gardening” with the naiveté of someone who had never really immersed herself in the experience. The thought of touching soil and making friends with its underground insect world was not all that appealing. That changed a few years ago when I decided to embrace curiosity and learn what all the green thumb fuss was about. I also had no choice but to clean up the garden because no one else was going to do it!

I soon realized the meditative gifts the garden offers and the abundant metaphors it holds. Take for example the notion of transformation. Transformation is abundant in the garden. The seed becomes a seedling which then becomes a plant which then bears fruit which then generates another seed and the cycle can begin again the following year. A seed is transformed into a fruit. Two very different states of matter yet very much interdependent. A simple aesthetic process to the human eye but a complex series of dynamics are all happening at the molecular level. A few months in the garden are enough to teach this powerful lesson in transformation faster than any textbook.

The Theory of Creative Destruction

Economist Joseph Schumpeter is credited with developing the theory of Creative Destruction. Destruction, he theorizes, is necessary for innovation to occur. His theory is related primarily to business innovation and how the destruction of one market usually seeds growth for the creation of another.  Think Kodak and printed pictures replaced by Apple and digital pictures. I fondly remember a conversation with an acquaintance who was working in organizational development. One day we were speaking about leadership and I remember her distinctly drawing out the Schumpeter framework, simplified here below, and describing how it also applies to leadership. The garden has taught me that it pretty much can be applied to life. We all go through cycles where something ends, and after an uncomfortable “in between” period, we emerge to a new beginning.

As I spend more time in the garden these days, I thought of this model.  The recent heatwave caused the lawn to go dormant. It looked destroyed and I berated myself for seeding in early July just before the heat wave started.  As I read up on why my lawn was looking so beige, I learned that the grass was not dead but had gone into retreat. With changes in temperature and enough water it will renew itself (I hope!).

To what extent has this pandemic caused me to go dormant in some way? I am reflecting on what has been creatively destroyed in my life and invite you to do the same. There are obvious tangible things like commuting and dining out. These are discrete changes in behaviour. The fact that I am at peace with the change, in other words my mindset, is actually the transformation. Back to the garden. I have never had the opportunity to observe it so closely in a season. This is another lesson I am taking away, what else have I not been observing? How present am I?

Look at what has gone dormant, what has been revived

As the pandemic context persists, what I am more reflective about now is my renewal phase. Like the lawn, how am I using the dormancy phase to regenerate myself? I wish I had crystal clear answers at this moment in time but I suspect this will take a little longer. What I know so far is that renewal can come in many forms. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual renewals are some layers of renewal. I am starting with simply becoming aware of the different layers. Like the garden, what we see is merely one layer.  Below the surface lie ecosystems that are at work to renew. Have I cultivated my internal and external ecosystems appropriately?

We now wait with anticipation for the ripening of the tomato plants, the rebirth of those tomato seeds.  When it comes to transforming, we often lose patience between the different phases. “The true growth” as my fellow coach Maryse Matta says, “happens in between”.  It seems like we are in a very long phase of “in-betweens” at the moment. Lock down or gradual re-openings, work at home or travel to work, home school or return to school? While these can seem frustrating for their binary, either-or nature, it is our acceptance of the frustrations that signal our growth. After all, does the tomato leaf yell at the stalk because it is not growing fast enough? No, each element trusts the other in support of mutual transformation.

Finally, once the flowers have bloomed, the lawn has regenerated and the tomatoes have borne fruit, the cycle of rebirth is gradually replaced by eventual maturity. Fall comes around and it is time for the garden to begin its next cycle of creative destruction so it can grow again.

Patience, interdependence and resilience are what the garden’s transformation has reminded me of so far this season. Patience is a virtue as they say and indeed, we are being tested daily in ways we have likely not been tested before. The pandemic has amplified our interdependence. Our actions are visibly impacting others. Our staying safe and healthy has a direct consequence on keeping our front-line workers safe. Resilience, they say, is not how one keeps going, but how one rests and regenerates.

Whether you are observing a garden, leading a team or a family, here are some reflections for the days ahead:

  • What habits or behaviours have been creatively destroyed?
  • How are you feeding your renewal?
  • What would you like your rebirth stage to look like?
  • How will you know when it is time to declare maturity and grow into your next transformation?


If you don’t have a garden, adopt a neighborhood tree as your transformation metaphor partner. Be patient as you watch it and YOU transform