Three Business Lessons I Learned From Gardeners’ World

2016-06-19 16.06.51At the weekend I enjoyed a busy, informative and inspiring visit to the BBC Gardeners’ World Live and BBC Good Food Summer shows at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham. Regular readers of this blog will know that the NEC is something of a spiritual home to me; however I am not used to visiting consumer shows there and in Customer Experience terms it was certainly a very POSITIVE day out.

Regular readers will also know that this year has been dominated, personally speaking, by a house renovation project; and now that summer is here (I know!!) thoughts naturally turn to the garden (or the “Somme Battlefield”, as we know it). With this in mind, the first celebrity masterclass I attended was delivered by Joe Swift, a professional garden designer, writer and broadcaster who has been a regular presenter on the BBC Gardeners’ World  programme for 18 years.

The theme of the well-attended session was “Garden Design for the Enthusiastic Amateur” (my description) – so of course I listened intently. As I did so, however, I learned much more than I was expecting, and not just about gardening.  It’s perhaps no surprise that more than one author has used a garden as a metaphor for “growing” a business; however, stick with me.

So here are the three key lessons which I’d suggest would be as relevant to business as to horticulture:

  1. Think differently: perhaps the most memorable thing about Joe’s presentation was that it was all about not doing the obvious. Assuming that many people start with a garden that is roughly rectangular in shape, he 2016-06-19 11.50.25suggested that the starting point for a design would be to imagine that the rectangle was rotated by, say, 45 degrees (you may just be able to see this in the photograph). Doing this, he said, changes everything: instead of all the elements being placed around the perimeter of the inevitable lawn, you suddenly have all sorts of unexpected opportunities for planting, placing sheds, greenhouses, compost heaps and so on, and for creating a variety of areas for sitting, as the sun moves across the garden. Not only that, you can also create the impression that your garden is bigger than it is, with softer boundaries and none of that sense of being able to see the whole garden in one vista.
  2. Be iconoclastic, be daring: the second most striking aspect of the session was how  it challenged the status quo, in terms of (British) gardening convention. I mentioned the “inevitable” lawn: well, Joe Swift, one of the best-known gardeners on TV, doesn’t have one! As he said, “What’s the point of it? You have to mow it every Sunday, and through the winter it’s just a damp, muddy patch!” Instead, he urged the audience to consider using a variety of surfaces to support the overall vision of a garden of curiosities and flexible enjoyment. It was striking how the question and answer session at the end largely consisted of the audience struggling with this approach.  Questions such as “Where would you put the shed/greenhouse/hot tub” (really!) were met with teasing, provocative responses – for example, the lawn would be sacrificed in order to make room for the greenhouse, and a question starting “We have a miniature railway right round the perimeter of our garden…” was met with gentle derision! Suffice it to say that a rotary clothes line does not feature in Joe Swift’s garden, since “it becomes the feature”.
  3. Have fun, get everyone involved: one of the neatest metaphors employed by Joe was2016-06-19 13.38.01 “Get the plants onto the dance floor”. Alluding to the memory of those awkward school discotheques where everyone stands round the edges of the room looking embarrassed, he urged the audience to have fun – thinking all the time about how to get the best out of your garden as a place to relax, create and meditate – with plants, shrubs, trees all around you not just round the margins.

I have to say I found this a very thought-provoking and entertaining session. I now want to create a garden that has the WOW factor, that isn’t like everybody else’s, and that above all, is designed around how I want to live, work and relax in it.

Next time, I’ll expand on how I would go about creating “Project STARS” for my garden – and how that could work in any organisation that wants to create memorable, differentiated experiences for its customers.

If you’d like to discuss anything in this post, do get in touch.

Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.


4 thoughts on “Three Business Lessons I Learned From Gardeners’ World

  1. I love gardening metaphors and have to restrain myself from illustrating every blog with a picture of my garden! I acquired a beautiful, lawn free garden a few years back – and yes, it is liberating and makes you think differently. A lawn was always an attention seeking monster, causing other things to be neglected. Life is better without it.

    It reminds me of De Bono’s blocked route model – if you can’t go that way, what will you do? There are many thoughts here around taking away the routine to give us the space to think differently.


    1. Great comment Julie! Thinking about familiar challenges from an unfamiliar angle can be so powerful – that’s why I do what I do. I help organisations see themselves differently, and see their challenges, opportunities, their “business as usual” for what it could be.

      Watch out for my gardening “Project STARS” post – coming soon!


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