“Einstein, James Dean
Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan
Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev
Princess Grace, Peyton Place
Trouble in the Suez”
When I was in seventh grade I could have gotten extra credit if I learned all of the words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” I, however, was much more concerned with making my own Halloween costumes, horses, and digging up my parents’ yard and turning it into flowerbeds.
It’s probably too early in this newsletter for a tangent but I’ll give you one: I dug up so much of their yard that because of that (among other things) eventually moved. Some 30 years later I did the same thing to my yard.
Back to Billy Joel. If he wrote new verses, I wonder what he’d choose to put in them?
The point is that we, the royal “we,” didn’t start the fire but it’s always been burning.
And we all have to live through it.
The world that’s burning.
The world keeps turning, though.
Last week I took a walk through the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Garden in Wilmington. Not sure if you knew that the Venus flytrap is endemic to Wilmington. That means it grows in the wild here and nowhere else. It’s native range is within a 75 mile radius of my house. That makes Wilmington one of the few places you could plant a garden of Venus flytraps in native soil and they’ll grow. Everyone else has to grow them in containers, and the success rate is. . . marginal.
The Garden is planted in a naturally occurring pocosin, an inland bog that doesn’t drain, resulting in highly acidic, mucky, nutrient-poor soils — perfect for plants that eat bugs for lunch.
To get to the Garden you walk about a quarter mile along a pervious concrete path and there are little signs giving you Venus flytrap facts. Did you know they can eat frogs?
Next to one of those signs was a cluster of Longleaf pines in various growing stages.
Both the pocosin and its surrounding longleaf pine forest are ecosystems that remain in careful balance with regular burning.
Longleaf pine seeds need to land on bare mineral soil to germinate. Fire provides that by obliterating everything in the understory.
The trees can’t start a new life unless everything around them is gone.
So that’s some metaphor, huh?
Longleaf Pines have four distinct stages of growth after germination.
- Grass phase: The seedling looks like the wiregrass that grows in the Longleaf pine savanna. During this phase, right after germination, the plant is growing a deep root system.
- Bottlebrush phase: The plant starts growing a bit of a trunk and the top looks like, you guessed it, a bottlebrush.
- Sapling stage: The trees start growing branches. They look a little like Truffla trees from The Lorax.
- Mature trees: The bark becomes thicker and the trees are at the point of reproduction. (Around 30 years old.)
Trial by Fire
What happens if you’re a tree, living in an ecosystem maintained by fire, when your growing tip is basically on the ground or maybe two feet above it?
That’s where the business lesson comes in.
When the pines are older, their thick bark protects the cambium from fire damage. (Not unlike the thicker skin that most people develop as they go through life.)
Younger Longleaf pines, in the 0-15 year range, rely heavily on their leaves (pine needles) to protect the growing tips.
When there’s a fire, some of the lower needles will burn, while the needles closest to the apical meristem, or growing tip, fold up around the tip to protect it.
Out of the frying pan
Garden related businesses have been growing at a scorching pace during the past two years.
Growth – and market contraction – are cyclical. At some point the industry will again be adversely affected by higher interest rates, inflation, climate reports, election cycles.
If COVID laid bare the soil, allowing (blessedly) many of our businesses to germinate and/or grow, how will the next fire affect us?
That depends on how we protect our apical meristems. (Growing tips.)
Time for a health check
When I was looking at the Longleaf Pine it made me think about my business and the businesses that we serve. Do we have the right structures and people surrounding us in order to withstand fire?
Do we have the people and systems and customers and suppliers and business philosophies and practices surrounding our growing tips?
Longleaf pines have protection built in.
The rest of us have to create it.
Here’s what that might look like.
Fireproof your business
- Lock in your direct-to-consumer communication. If most of your marketing is via social media, that’s risky. (We don’t have time to unpack the potential purchase of twitter by a private individual, other than to say that fortunes can turn on a dime when it comes to a communication channel you don’t own.) Use big followings on other people’s platforms to build your own followings on email and SMS marketing platforms.
- Evaluate price points for subscription and recurring services. Bump people up to higher points so that if they need to, they can bump down, not away. Run garden tours overseas? Look into some luxury tours closer to home that require less expensive plane tickets.
- Polish speaking packages. Zoom is here to stay. What can you offer that eliminates travel costs?
- Explore opportunities with local makers. Whether they make pots, t-shirts, plant hangers, draw, type poems, concoct tinctures, or brew tea, the direction of business is firmly pointed toward small, DIY, community-supported businesses. Welcome them into your fold. They ARE your leaves. You are theirs. For an example, check out the event scheduled at Paul’s and Sandy’s Too for June.
- Offer delightful, memorable, engaging experiences. Whether you speak, write, sell plants, grow plants, teach, or travel, you provide an experience every time you interact with someone. If they enjoy working with you or visiting you, you’re more likely to make the cut when it’s time to slash.
- Organize and evaluate staff and resources. NOW is the time to make sure the right people are in the right places and that resources are well allocated. Some recent staff departures (self-determined, as in- staff elected to move on) at GOW have made that a priority for us. With that. . .
It is my pleasure to introduce Gabriela Bazan. She has joined our team as project manager responsible for many aspects of operations and web department management. She comes to us having built a business very similar to the Web arm of The Garden of Words.
She isn’t a gardener yet, but it’s still early. . .
Gabriela has been working with us for a few weeks but it already feels like she has been part of the team for several years. She has such a similar sense of humor and a deep well of kindness, compassion, and customer service toward both her teammates and our clients. I feel so lucky that we found her. I’m not sure everyone anyone has ever compared her to a pine needle, but as I look at the pine needles that surround me, I’m really glad she’s one of them.
I’m not gonnna lie. This picture almost derailed my entire newsletter today.
Seriously, I thought it was some kind of elaborate prank.
A few notes:
2. If you’re new here, welcome.
We Didn’t Start the Fire
OMG LAUGH WITH ME (S/o to Tamara for sending me this link)
Dried flowers – the next big thing. (It’s already big with the youths. Please, garden people of the world, jump on it. I’ll do a blog about it soon.)
Currently obsessing over these episodes of the Ezra Klein podcast
Scream with me with a purpose in mind. (Such as fireproofing your business.)