Network Like a Gardener

Today, on my daily walk, I decided to visit one of my favorite spots. It’s a yard tucked back in an old neighborhood behind Old Time Pottery, and it’s a work of love. The garden isn’t a planned thing—just plants placed in the right spot for each specimen’s particular growing conditions.

To a person who does not love plants and speak their language, I imagine it must look a bit of a mess. But to me, I see so much interest, texture—and there’s always something new blooming to catch my eye. I have been visiting this garden each season to see what else has been done, to see what’s changed. But I’d never met the gardener.

Today, I chanced to arrive when she was out watering the Hell Strip, aka that usually unloved bit of land between the sidewalk and the street. I spoke to this stranger whose garden I have lovingly visited for four years and more.

The Secret Is to Give

We started talking about her garden, how it got started, her lack of a particular plan. We discussed the various merits of species she was in the process of watering, and I learned that she was a nurse who worked at a research facility.

Before long, I’d offered her some tradescantia and one of the pink Sasanqua camellias I was in the process of rooting. She offered me Lysimachia clethroides, more memorably known as goose neck loose strife and a mallow shrub, both of which butterflies flock to in spring and summer.

It strikes me now that the secret to good networking is actually the same as that of gardeners and generally good people. You offer what you have, you praise the hard work of others, and you generally seek nothing but the pleasure of their company.

The Right Sort of People

It isn’t about what another gardener can give you, nor really any other person for that matter. When I talk about “Networking,” I mean that thing that people do, sometimes rather horribly. They shallowly “connect”, but once you’re on their social media, their LinkedIn, whatever, you never hear from them again.

You’ve been collected. This is where any interest you have for these people ceases. For the longest time, this was the impression I had of what networking was, and I hated it. I ran from it or made myself so disagreeable no one would trouble me.

But good networking is simply another word for relationship building. And that’s all it should be. Not some mad dash to collect people or seek out only the people you believe can benefit you.

Instead, it should be as the relationship between gardeners is—organic, all about sharing knowledge and offering to trade plants or bits from ones own garden. This, to me, is a powerful analogy for sociality in complex, hierarchical societies. At least, sociality that is healthy.

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