Your business has more in common with an allotment than it may seem, Part 2

30 June 2022, By By Deborah Gray, Founder and Managing Director of Canela

This #CanelaInsights is the second part of a text where Deborah Gray, Founder and Managing Director of Canela, shares the valuable lessons that gardening can teach every leader. In the first part, we already learned about the space that both plants and employees need and the need for team members (and plants in a garden!) to complement each other.
Read part one here.

Plan your activity for every season

If all goes well Summer is a bountiful time to have a huerto.  Often I am in the huerto in the morning before work and then again at the end of the day, or, as every home worker will identify with, between Zoom calls. We harvest tomatoes, onions, beans, and courgettes on a daily basis. This is great because not only can we feed ourselves but we also have surplus which can be frozen, canned or given away to friends and family or the local food bank.
Winter is not so frenetic. There is a different pace in Winter but it happens for a reason; the soil needs to rest and the perennials (plants that flower for more than two years) also need to rest, regroup and store up energy for the next season’s growth. Winter provides a welcome break for gardeners too, there’s less physical gardening work which allows another kind of task; reviewing what grew well this year and why, writing growing plans for next year, sorting out the seedbox mending fences, the watering system and the compost pile etc.

Businesses also have their frenetic times and their more peaceful times, and so it is essential to plan accordingly. My business is public relations and the period from Back to School until Christmas is notoriously frenetic due to the lull over the summer followed by an uptake in everyone wanting to spend their budgets before the end of the financial year. This is made even more complicated by the mediatic opportunities such as Hallowe’en, Black Friday and of course Christmas campaigns. There is no margin in anyone’s day during the back to school period and to get the most from the team it is essential not to give anyone any unnecessary tasks or projects that could wait until a less busy time of the year. By contrast Q2 (April to June) for us is a quiet period. We know  that is when our fee income is the lowest and we plan ahead for that. We know that this time is a good time for training, blue-sky thinking for the next financial year and employee exchanges between offices or with our partner agencies. 

Freshly picked chillies, tomatoes, onions, aubergines and coriander.

Do something beautiful because you can

I am an aspiring locavore. My main interest in the garden is to grow food that can be eaten by my family. However as a byproduct of that intent I have created a growing environment in which other plants can flourish so it seems a shame not to take advantage of this by growing something beautiful which we may not necessarily be eaten but it can serve to attract pollinators or just simply look nice. After all, the eyes must also eat.

In a similar way leaders can use the teams and the structures they have built to do something that doesn’t necessarily have any business benefit. You can loan your office space out for use by NGOs or other organisations who don’t have access to the space they need. You can get your team to take part in voluntary initiatives like tree-planting or working with refugees or the homeless. It won’t bring any business benefit but it will be a great bonding experience for the team and after all you can’t measure everything by profit and loss.

Experiment: Fail: Learn

I read online about an ancient Chinese watering technique for tomato plants. Block a drainage hole in a ceramic plant pot and bury it in the soil alongside your tomato plants and then fill the plant pot up with water. The water will seep out by osmosis and water the tomato plant directly at its roots. Last season I invested in lots of pots and tried that. Epic fail. All my carefully  grown-from-seed exotic tomato plants didn’t even make it to the flowering stage. All that method did was attract a whole load of slugs.
This year my tomato plants are growing alongside an automated watering system like all my other plants. My lesson has been learned. 

In the early days of my business during the global recession of 2008/9 despite being a consumer technology agency we tried to set up a fashion communication department. We created a showroom and spent hours and hours cold calling and cold emailing on fashion brands doors. The results were negligible in spite of a great many hours invested and we had very little to show for our efforts. We decided to call it quits and get back to core business. Once we had focussed on what we knew best our business started to grow again.

Deborah next to her green bean plants.

Once you decide on a strategy stick with it

Unless you have acres and acres of farmland, most people like me, have to work within the constraints of a certain amount of m2 within which to plant their vegetables. This means making some hard decisions about what to grow and when. You can only plant a certain amount within a given space and within a given season. Once you have made those decisions, be patient and stick to the plan, otherwise your garden will be chaos.

Similarly with business you have a finite set of resources both in terms of team and money, once you have set objectives for the year stick with them. It may take time for things to turn out the way you want them to but you need to be able to trust that things are moving in the right direction, even if, inevitably things take longer than you would like. There’s no point in digging up a seed to see if it’s germinating or not, you will just kill it off, you need to muster your patience and wait for the seed leaves to push up through the soil. The same is true for a business plan, be patient and stick with it, things inevitably take longer than you would like. If you have created the right environment and planned ahead, barring wars and pandemics, you will get the results you want eventually.

An ant on a basil plant.


Nature is a wonderful thing. Seeds placed in soil and then watered will grow leaves and given the right amount of water, sunlight, and the occasional fertilizer they will grow healthily and happily and be a source of food for you, your family and your community as well as for insects and birds. (How the wood pigeons love my cabbages). Beans, cucumbers, melons (yes even melons) peas and tomatoes climb up runners reaching for the sky. They make flowers which bees and other insects come and pollinate, the birds eat seeds and spread them around. You can create an environment where plants flourish and because the plants are flourishing and so are the insects, the birds and your own family, friends and community.

The environment at work is very similar to the natural environment. Leaders who provide the right combination of guidance, training, autonomy, space to fail and complementary skills within a team will be replicating nature and providing the optimum conditions for their team members to grow. Creating a people-first environment means that every team member will reach for the sky. 

Happy planting.

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