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Learn The Hard Way, Then Let It Be Easy


For a couple years now, I’ve been threatening to write more about the lessons I learn in the garden.

That’s right. About four years ago, I started a garden.

It wasn’t much of a decision, and it wasn’t much at first. I was given a large bag of potatoes the first time I visited PEI (commercially packaged and declared at the border, just so u know). I made potato dishes every day for weeks, but couldn’t eat them all quickly enough.

A few grew eyes. So I planted them.

And just like that, I became a grower.

The first year was just potatoes in a little forgotten side yard plot, and some cherry tomoatoes in pots on the porch. The next year I expanded – added more tomatoes, and herbs. Then another year, I cut a small square garden in the back area of the yard, which has expanded each year since, to eventually grow Zucchini, Summer Squash, Butternut Squash, Cucumbers, Beets, Carrots, Turnips, Spinach, Kale, Mustard Greens, Lettuce, Tatsoi, Celery, Onions, and Brussels Sprouts – when all is said and done, these years later.

My expansion started with the one patch of grass we were unable to get to grow. Small at first, each year enlarged in celebration of the previous year’s success and in hope for the year to come.

I did everything by hand.

– Used an axe to cut an area into the mature grass, and to cut strips in the sod.
– Used a shovel to skim the sod off section by section.
– Transported the earth to a compost pile and other areas of the yard that needed evening by wheel barrow.
– Hand picked grubs out of the entire area (which I learned was the main infiltrator keeping things from growing).
– Hauled in various rounds of compost (all local to New England – a mixture of Lobster and local farm cultivated).
– Countless hours on my hands and knees, digging potatoes by hand, working out music marketing problems as I moved across the ground.

Each year, at the beginning of spring, I spend days turning over the earth by hand with a shovel and fork, and mixing in compost where I think it needs it. I take extra care in initial removal of grass and weed roots, establishing even soil quality, and general defense of the garden boundary, to prevent infiltration of the rich soil that hungry grass offshoots reach to find. I plan where things should go, how much space they need, how tall each plant might grow, how much time different parts of the garden might take to cultivate. I have to envision what they will become, from the seed they are at first, to give them the best chance for life.

I am glad I always take the time. To prep the bed well.

I know it will pay off. There’s never a doubt of that.

I share these feelings about artist management. I’m always glad to take the time to prepare well. To talk it out. To think it through. Every bit of consideration is worthwhile. It pays off later, when there isn’t time to go back and redraw foundation. Others may think it’s wasted time. That action is more important. Even my previous blog might indicate that, to a certain extent. So conflict noted. But while others act frantically, I’ve never regretted working out the details and thinking ahead to the future.

A well planned garden makes mid-season spontaneity and flexibility easy, affordable and scalable.
A well planned campaign does the same for an album release, or a career.

That’s just one of the gems I have learned from gardening.

Here are some others:
– Every good thing takes time and attention. But not too much attention.
– Some things need space to grow. Some things like company.
– Everything has its season. But it won’t always follow the rules.
– There are no experts. Only those with experience-honed instincts.
– It doesn’t matter what works for anyone else. It’s what works for you that counts.
– Don’t harvest too early. Or too late. Patience. But not greed.
– Trust the process.

More on all of those lessons another time! This season, it is something else that strikes me.

It is a lesson about doing it yourself versus employing a machine.

I’ve reached the level of gardening skills that it’s now okay for me to let certain tasks be easy. I’ve earned that. This year, I introduced the modern marvel of a power tiller to the equation. I gave in and involved a machine in my bed preparation. And that is a good thing.

I turned half of my garden over by hand, with my trusted shovel, as I’ve done every year before. But the other half I turned over with small tiller I borrowed from my neighbor. And the expansion will be done with the tiller this year as well.

I realized by holding onto the way I had always done it, the way I knew and was comfortable with, I was inhibiting scale and growth, and undermining the reasons I was doing this in the first place. I was afraid of the things I didn’t know. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the machine. Afraid I’d look dumb to the friend I asked for help. Or worse, to my other neighbors, who are older, more accomplished gardeners, and might witness my failure.

But the fact is everyone learned what they know sometime, somehow.

What a relief it was to find out that it wasn’t embarrassing to ask for help at all! My friends were happy to be of service, and share their knowledge. It was no skin off their back. My garden growing well wasn’t going to keep theirs from doing the same.

I am still glad that I want to know how to do something with my own hands before I use a tool to do it faster and more easily. I value that, and keep it. I know it is inherent in maintaining high quality in my work. I want to know what work goes into everything. The work I would relinquish to shortcut. So I can really see the new productivity and learning opportunities afforded by the machine.

So I can consider… What will I do with my time now that I am not out there digging?

This is the constant question we managers struggle with. The best use of our time. The use that will propel us forward – in our knowledge, in our skills, in the value we add, in the ways we can grow. The use that will make the most impact for our artists.

When to delegate. When to do it ourselves.

When I texted my neighbor to say I couldn’t believe I was already done tilling, she replied, “It’s allowed to be easy.”

I can’t think of better advice for an artist manager, ahem, I mean for a gardener.

Thanks, neighbor. And thanks, garden.