Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Thursday, 8 January 2009

My Garden's Mission Statement


Part of our back garden on Monday morning - click to enlarge if needed

Anna (Flowergardengirl) wrote an amusing and excellent post a few days ago about the name she's given to her garden. This was inspired by an article by Helen Yoest over at Gardening with Confidence who's challenged us all to come up with a name and/or mission statement for our own gardens.

At first I dismissed the idea and told her so. I've spent many a long meeting at work where we've discussed mission statements ad nauseum. They're meant to encapsulate an organisation's ethos in a succinct and memorable way, so it's a serious business and needs to be just right. In my experience World War III has practically broken out over whether and where the word and belongs in the sentence. It can get really picky and heated. As a result I feel they belong firmly in my former life and not my present one, certainly not in something as personal and non-corporate as my garden. However, I found I couldn't stop thinking about my response to the Why do I Garden? challenge last month alongside Helen's ideas, so I went and had another peep at her article.

To summarise, Helen argues that having spent so long developing and nurturing our gardens, it's a natural step to name and devise a mission statement to encapsulate that journey. It's meant to be liberating and by writing one, there's an instant shorthand available when describing the garden to others. Whether the name or the mission statement comes first doesn't matter. Helen then describes in some detail the merits of her garden (Helen's Haven) and summarises it all as:

Helen’s Haven is a sustainable, wildlife habitat, created to attract and feed birds, bees, butterflies and for the enjoyment of friends, family, and visitors to educate, enjoy, and to understand we are the earth’s caretakers, so let’s take care.

There's an interesting discussion in the comments. Most have risen to Helen's challenge and have come up with their own mission statement or name. As statements go, I think they're great - much better than the corporate ones I've been involved with. But I do feel uncomfortable with the implication that somehow I haven't thought deeply enough about what my garden is or means to me if I don't have a name or mission statement. I may be wrong in thinking that, and it also feels too formal for me: I'm reminded of The Garden Monkey's strapline - Smile it's only gardening. For me a garden is fun and it evolves: it grows and sometimes dies; the environment surrounding it changes; I learn new things and apply them - there's a whole creative process in there which I don't think can be bound adequately by words. As for describing it to others without a name or mission statement, I haven't had any difficulty in that direction yet. And should I be imposing my beliefs on them anyway - can't a garden have many meanings depending on our differing beliefs and experiences, just as we all respond in different ways to things like art and music?

So I'm going to decline Helen's challenge and let my garden just be - speaking for itself, continuing on its journey with me and delighting myself and others in so many different ways. Perhaps I might think differently if I was a professional gardener or opened my garden to the public on a regular basis. However, I've enjoyed the thought process along the way to making that decision: my gardening world shifted on its axis for a little while. Now it's back on an even keel again and I feel a sense of relief and contentment.

Footnote - that was originally the end of my piece which I wrote a couple of days ago. However whilst showering this morning, the following just popped into my head:

My garden: ever changing, always learning.

That's the closest to a mission statement you'll get from me. And guess what - I've already had an argument with myself whether there should be full stops instead of a colon and comma ;)

What do you think - will you take Helen's challenge and give your garden a name and/or mission statement, or will you let your garden just be?

27 comments:

  1. VP like you I read both these posts when they came out and couldn't find a way of applying them to me and my garden. But I found I kept thinking about it trying to categorises my garden! I wonder if a name or mission statement could restrict us, suggesting what we can't do rather than what we can.

    I think your statement is excellent, it liberates you to keep adding new ideas (plants), taking things out and having fun. And best of all sharing it with us!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

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  2. Hi, VP! What a refreshing attitude. I don't mean any disrespect to the other posts, which show lovely gardens, and a lot of careful thought, but I'm slightly allergic to the phrase 'mission statement'. Too often, that's what you read on some company's website when you're trying to find out how to make a complaint.
    Having said that, I realise that the title of my blog, and the description that accompanies it, is a kind of mission statement. I think of it, however, as a headline and a sub-deck...

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  3. The phrase 'mission statement' came up regularly in the public sector too and likewise was the source of heated debate which left me cold. I have always thought that it applies to organisations rather than individuals. Like Victoria I have the same allergy when it comes to the phrase. I do have some principles behind the way I garden but it's all in my head. As for naming my garden I think that I would only do that if I opened to the public.

    What I have decided after picking up my weighty tome is that I need to get a new dictionary - my 1993 dictionary does not have an entry for the phrase 'mission statement' :)

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  4. The gardens we create mean different things to different people, and different things to each of us at different times of our lives. For 40 plus years, I've puttered along in the gardens I created or cared for, first as a child full of hope and surprise as I watched my first seeds sprout. Then as income to help pay my way through college. This followed a 20 stretch where I gardened for a release from my very hectic, high impact career regularly working 3,000 hours a year as a vice president for an engineering company. At the time, it wasn't my mission to make a statement in my garden. We wrote mission statements at work as well. But they didn't bother me. I was the one who threw out the concept and let the detail people work out the dotting of the "i's" and crossing the "t's". I knew where I could add value and where I couldn't. As such I excused myself from further comment when it came time - either physically or mentally, depending on what I could get away with;-} If I had chosen to write a garden mission statement back then, I would have reflected on something poignant in my life at the time. Today, still as a business women fortunate to work in the business of gardening, my garden is still release, but now I have more time to reflect on it. Perhaps the term "mission statement" is the cause some anxiety. Unlike being in the corporate world where business mission statements are effectively written by committee, your garden is your own. It doesn't matter if one writes a mission statement or not; or even if one gives it some serious consideration, there is no doubt every gardener has thought about their garden in terms beyond the mulch snuggling next to a plant that will bring them joy in the spring.

    In the end, VP, you wrote a very nice one. I will only post it with the others if you want me too. My post is food for thought. I wrote my mission statement one day, just recently, when I watched the birds take flight as I traveled down my garden path. The moment moved me. It moved me to want to write about what my garden meant to me; how I wanted it to be viewed. From there I analyzed it. Don't shoot me, I have an analytical mind, but I'm a concept person, not a detailed person. That's the power of these types of posts. The concept person throws out the concept and the process to make it happen, the detailed person takes it and refines it. We need both to make it happen. We need both to make the world happen.

    As I look back on my experience, I've learned one very important lesson - never say never.

    The last thing I ever wanted to do was to cause anx, but I do hope gardeners will garden groundly.

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  5. Hi VP,

    I couldn't actually give our garden a mission statement or a name without running it past the senior management. I got in enough trouble calling my blog 'Gary's Garden! I think the nearest I have to one is the sign I put on the gate to the veg plot, ' sow it, grow it, eat it'.

    Gary

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  6. VP .. You know I am not long on words and get to the point quite quickly .. except when I ramble on about an official fudge day .. I'll move on from that, for now.
    I have been reading about this "mission statement" thing .. and like you I feel an overwhelming urge to "let my garden be as it wants to be" no ADMINISTRATIVE attachments EVER>
    I'm not criticizing the gardeners that wish to do this .. I'm just expressing an opinion to leave gardens be as they be ! .. Having said that .. I have one constant experience with my garden .. it allows me to dream and scheme and love it to bits and quite frankly, others may admire it .. but it is for me, and me alone. Something that is very hard to find in life. So I am a happy person because of the gift my garden gives me : )
    Phew ! That was long winded !!

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  7. I agree with Victoria and you - I still inhabit a world where there are length discussions over the use of certain words and so the idea of a mission statement for my garden was repellent. My garden is just that a garden - not a business, or a corporation.

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  8. Sorry VP, this is completely nothing to do with your post, but I have lost all of my icons on blogger when I go to create a post, I cant add any pictures etc

    Arrrggghhhhhh I think I am going completely mad. I have even been on the trouble shooting thing at the top that says HELP. I have added a thread, but no response as yet. It says in the FAQ to go to the compose button press that and it will sort itself. I cant find a compose button only a create?

    What am I doing wrong, oh great and wise blogger buddy

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  9. Hi VP, commas and colons, oh the humanity!

    I agree with you about the mission statement for my own garden too. Fairegarden is a state of mind, which I guess could be a mission statement? I have moved many times and will move again, I believe, so the name Fairegarden is the name of wherever I am digging at the time.

    Frances

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  10. i also think that the phrase "mission statement" is what unnerves people so. having a descriptive phrase/definition of what you want your garden to be or be regarded as, can help some retain a sense of direction (what to buy, where to place) as opposed to being so overwhelmed with choice as to not to be able to do anything at all.

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  11. The whole idea of one's garden having to justify itself by having a mission statement makes me very slightly spooked but then I I have spent my entire life running screaming from that sort of corporate stuff.
    I like your statement because it is admirably short, pithy and does not include the word sustainable.
    If forced then my statement is:
    Gardens are for gardening.

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  12. VP, I've added you to my blog roll!

    This message is for JamesA-S
    When I was a child, all the talk was about the depression...for something to have happened in the late 20's and early 30's, yet in the 50's and 60's, it was still on the forefront of every elders mind.

    Last year, our area of North Carolina suffered the worse drought in 100 years. We were very close to having water brought in just to SURVIVE. It was an eye opener for everyone here who tills the earth. I witnessed first hand what soil looks like dry, as in dust bowl days dry. We are now, for the most part, a sustainable community,I am a sustainable gardener.

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  13. Hi VP! I love your mission statement: short, sweet, and to the point. But like others here, I've crafted far too many corporate mission statements to want one anywhere in my private life. "Let it be!" is my thought on that. However, I come from a long line of Southern (U.S.) gardeners, and Southerners are name-happy. My grandparents' farm is Beechland; my parents' Colonial home is Mile End. My favorite ancestral property was called Simms' Grief (I dread to think); and my own home place is, and always will be (as with Frances), Hawk's Haven. It is my refuge and my nest, and we are blessed with resident hawks of the avian variety, as it happens, as well. Thanks for a thoughtful and typically delightful post!

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  14. Veep, I, too, have spent many hours (hours I'll never get back!) in work bureaucracy wrestling over mission statements, so my reaction was similar to yours when I read about it in Tina's blog. To me, "garden" is primarily a verb, not a noun, and verbs don't need mission statements! The noun part of it is what happens as a result of the verb. I need to garden as meditation, relaxation; it's what I DO. It's what I HAVE to do.
    P.S. Thanks also for your wonderful offer of seeds for my swap, but no people anywhere outside the U.S. have signed up! :(

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  15. I enjoyed your well written post. I like what came to you. I have not come up with one, but it is interesting to think about.
    I think whatever I come up with it would have to be very direct. I would not want make my garden more than it is. It is jyst a city garden on a hill (although my beloved teahouse is really just a shack, so I do not mind a little sillyness)
    :)
    Philip

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  16. Oh please! Why the heck does a garden need a 'mission statement', which at best is something corporations and governments come up with as propaganda! xx

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  17. Seeing as word verification is mormonin I felt I should add my three pen'orth for what it's worth.

    Wow what a contraversial topic VP.

    My garden (our garden) doesn't have a name but some areas of it do. There's the prosaic like 'The Orchard', but one area has been known for years as 'Mum's Vision' but was last year dubbed 'The Secret Garden' by a visiting friend of my son. This name I rather like. An embroidery group that I used to belong to was asked to write a mission statement. We found it very tricky, we all said but we do it because we love it.

    I don't think that 'mission statement' is the right term for this - perhaps more of a 'raison d'etre'?

    I need to get out in the garden as much as I need to eat, sleep breathe and laugh. So maybe I should confess to being a gardening addict. Should I set up Gardeners Anonymous? No, I don't think so. Good heavens - if we were all weaned of our addiction there would be no sustainability left! (That bit is for James with whom I agree wholeheartedly on the sustainability front).

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  18. Thanks for that VP, with the editting thingy. Actually there were no tabs. So I messed about and deleted the last post by accident. But bobs your uncle every thing works now! What they was I do not know.

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  19. I think your short statement says it all VP. That's about as close to a mission statement that I could ever come up with too. :)

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  20. Crikey Veep's
    Mission statement? :(
    Great post you have written here - and I did go and read Helen Yost's original post. Lots of food for thought.
    Me - I am an artist and I garden - 'nuff said.
    K

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  21. I think you came up with an excellent mission statement colons and all! It works very well for you. Having studied mission statements in college but not having worked in the business world perse since I was always military, I actually found the exercise of writing one for real a good mental activity. Sure made me think. The name part of the post was much easier though. btw I may have missed it, but do you affectionately refer to your garden by a pet name?

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  22. I had a good time naming my garden and I guess the 10 people who read about enjoyed it too;). If you ask a 100 people next year what the name of my mission statement is..they won't remember.

    Can you say my mission statement right now? Mr D says that all the mission statements he writes are common sense issues reworded a thousand ways to please the same audience but not commit anyone to anything.

    I like the name of my garden. I put a ton of thought in to it. It was an accumulation of all the years I've been gardening. It too is a verb or noun or bad word according to some.

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  23. Well said, VP! Like you, I've had to write a few mission statements for work and hope I never have to write another. That being said, I do like your simple mission statement. It says it all for me, too, especially the part about "always learning."

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  24. Wow - what a lot of discussion this has caused, just like it did over at the original post :)

    Thanks everyone. Whether a mission statement is very short and sharp vs. something like Helen's is often keenly debated in my experience. What matters is I'm happy with where I am with the whole thing of course. And what matters most of all is that we care deeply for our little bit of earth, with or without mission statements or names. And I know that's the case with everyone who's responded here.

    Helen - I understand why you made your comment about sustainable. Having studied the photography of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, the US has a much more dramatic experience of non-sustainability outcomes. I believe what James is getting that is that a number of people and companies in the gardening industry are cynically manipulating the use of this word to put themselves in a better position. Just like the word detox is manipulated in the food industry.

    A couple of you asked if I'd named my garden - not really. I sometimes call it VP Gardens, but usually it's my garden. Note that NAH hasn't been included so that it becomes our garden ;) Where I do see garden names on blogs, I've always enjoyed them, especially yours Frances and OFB. And Anna (FGG), your story of The Putz and what you found out about the meaning of the word was priceless!

    Sorry not to name you all, but many thanks for your contributions - we've all had our thinking caps well exercised by this one haven't we? And that's what I love about this blogging and commenting lark :D

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  25. Mission statements are for work along with health & safety, timekeeping, pay reviews, budgets etc etc Urgh!

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  26. VP- Helen really got us going with the Mission Statement - and that's a good thing. My garden doesn't even have a name although I do refer to The Rose Walk and the Lawn Bed (sometimes more elegantly known as the Lawn Grove. I liked your final tag statement about always changing and always learning. I was telling someone the other day that I hadn't ever planted asparagus because I could never decide on a spot that I wouldn't want to change. Maybe my description, not a mission statement , is All Is Flux.

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  27. Frankie - I'm leaving them firmly in the world of work too!

    Pat - All is Flux could apply to the way I feel about my garden at the moment!

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