To recap, I was recently asked by a lawyer who shall be known as X about how I left the legal profession and launched my own startup called Anita’s Garden. For this topic, I think it makes more sense for me to start at the end and work backwards, even though this may seem back to front.
X’s email is founded on the assumption that I didn’t enjoy practising law anymore and that was the reason that I left the profession. This is incorrect. I didn’t leave law because I didn’t love it anymore. I left law because I found something else that I love even more.
I left a profession to which I dedicated many years of my educational and working life, a profession which I found incredibly rewarding and a profession for which I still have so much respect. Being a lawyer is so much more than merely a job. The legal profession is a fraternity, a family, an extended and complex support network. I am constantly blown away by how much encouragement fellow lawyers have given me over the years, both in New Zealand and when I worked overseas.
It was difficult balancing work at a large corporate firm with the maintenance of such a large, productive garden. I decided to devote myself full time to Anita’s Garden so I could inspire, encourage and assist others to develop their own private happy space – a sanctuary, a haven, an oasis at home which allows them to escape their problems, as well as the pressures and responsibilities of adulthood. I also created Anita’s Garden because I feel passionate about educating others so that they can learn how to grow their own fruit and vegetables organically, feed their families, improve their health and reduce their grocery bills.
I’m genuinely horrified that my startup might encourage people with a similar academic and professional background to leave the legal profession and embark on a journey similar to my own. That was definitely not my intention! I don’t consider myself to be a trailblazer. I am surprised that anyone would want to follow in my footsteps. I’ve always just tried to make what I deemed to be the best decisions in the circumstances, after considering all the factors. For me, moving away from legal practice was the right decision but each person’s journey is different. There are no precise steps that you must follow. Each person must decide if and when the time is right. Trust your instincts. This might sound vague but I’ve always been reluctant to advise people what to do in personal situations, as I don’t like being blamed when things go wrong. Don’t forget that this isn’t a point of no return. Many lawyers in New Zealand have left legal practice to do something else, only to return to law at a later stage in their life. The grass always appears greener on the other side. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
Don’t forget that it can take some time to settle into a profession. Give things a chance. For me, law was not exactly love at first sight. It took me awhile to understand exactly what it meant to be a lawyer and to really enjoy what I was required to do as part of my job. Basically, you get paid to read the really boring bits. Every job has aspects which are dull, so I’ve learnt to take the bad with the good.
In X’s case, as you become more senior, the dangling carrot of partnership becomes very lucrative. To start all over again means taking a cut in seniority and remuneration. This is a major consideration when one has financial commitments such as a mortgage and dependent children. But sometimes you need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Nothing is ever a complete waste of time. Over the course of the past ten years, X gained valuable experience, contacts and confidence in herself. Sometimes what we are doing at present is a part of something even greater further down the track. In a nutshell, life is a journey rather than a destination. Relax and embrace it!
A few days ago, I received an interesting email from a lawyer I know who I shall call X, of an anonymous country of origin, law firm and practice area, to protect her identity. X had stumbled upon my blog after we became reconnected on LinkedIn. I would like to share X’s message and my response in a series of posts on my blog, since other readers may have similar questions. X congratulated me on my startup, Anita’s Garden, which she said made her feel inspired and encouraged. X commended me on always knowing that I wanted to become a gardener. X explained that she was thinking of doing something similar herself but didn’t know how or where to start. X said that she had worked at her law firm for ten years and that it was hard for her to leave behind everything that she had worked so hard for. X wanted to know how I had managed to leave law to do something completely different. In particular, she was interested in how I started the process and wanted me to guide her through the steps I took to create Anita’s Garden.
I should start by saying that there are quite a few questions, issues and even a couple of assumptions contained in X’s message. I would also like to elaborate on some tangential points arising from X’s email. To prepare my response, I began by dissecting X’s email into a number of components. I have been sketching my thoughts in draft form over the last couple of days. There is a lot that I would like to say in response, so I will organise my thoughts into a series of posts on my blog.
It is difficult to relate the story of my journey from law to developing Anita’s Garden chronologically. Since returning to New Zealand in 2010, there were many events in my life that occurred in parallel rather than sequentially. While it is natural to want to construct a chronology, a timeline won’t adequately capture the essence of my journey. I think the best way to structure my response is over the course of a number of posts that cover the different themes, issues and questions raised by X’s email. There will, of course, be some overlap as it is difficult to look at things in isolation. I find that even if I want to examine the detail, I’m still always trying to put things into context! In the end, I have settled on organising the information under the following headings.
1. Pursuing a career in law and leaving the legal profession
2. How my interest in gardening evolved
3. Creating and running my own startup, Anita’s Garden
4. Reflections on the value of higher education, years spent working as a lawyer in large corporate law firms internationally and where I am today
5. How to deal with negativity from other people in relation to all of the topics above
Keep checking back regularly as I cover each of these topics in more detail.
Negotiation is central to both law and life in general. As a former corporate lawyer, a large part of my role in acting for the firm’s clients involved negotiating with legal counsel for the other party in disputes and transactions. The goal was to reach a private agreement, without the need to take formal legal action such as litigation or arbitration. Negotiation also occurs regularly in day to day life, even though it may be conducted in a more informal way and therefore be disguised as mere dialogue. Even a discussion about a trivial matter such as what to have for dinner may include an element of negotiation. Negotiation is about communication and compromise. It forces both parties to listen to each other, reconsider their initial position and try to meet somewhere in the middle. Normally, some give and take is required in order to reach an agreement.
The word no is extremely powerful. It signals the end of the road and a refusal to engage in further discussion. It’s a bit like issuing an ultimatum to someone and saying “take it or leave it”. At the office, no was a word that I seldom used. Lawyers usually try to find solutions to problems. An important part of the role of a legal advisor is to advise on risk. The question was therefore not whether the client could act in a certain way, but what the legal implications would be if they decided to do so. In my personal life, it’s also a word that I try to avoid because compromise is the key to building and maintaining successful relationships. By contrast, acquiescence, the result of coercion, can be dangerous. It is entirely appropriate to say no and stand your ground. Where consent is an issue, no means no. End of story.
As I develop the concept of Anita’s Garden from a physical green space into an entity, I have found myself constantly engaging in negotiations with customers, suppliers and consultants. Lately, I have been finding that on the odd occasion when I have used the word no and really meant it, I have been met with forceful resistance which has left me taken aback. There is a fine line between tenacity and being perceived as pushy. While the former is an admirable quality, the latter can be a little off-putting. Furthermore, respect is an important attribute. Sometimes, you need to back down and respect someone’s feelings when they say no.
Even seemingly simple decisions can be based on complex and personal reasoning which may not be apparent to the other party. One is not necessarily obliged to disclose all of the factors which underpin their decisions. An incident of this nature arose recently in the context of business. As discussed in a previous blog post, we host volunteers who are provided with lodging and meals in exchange for some assistance around the garden. Every stay involves negotiation regarding a number of factors, starting with the dates and duration of the visit. One pair of travellers requested to stay for a fortnight when we technically had availability, as we had not made any reservations for that period of time. I responded by saying that we were sorry but unable to commit at this time. While I did not go into details, mum and I were discussing whether we should take another holiday around that time. To my surprise, I received a response from the pair a few days later. They reminded us of our availability for the dates they had requested and insisted that be allowed to stay for that period. Against this background, I stood my ground and re-iterated my initial position, signalling an end to the discussion. Thankfully, they accepted our decision and backed down.
The situation reminds me of another incident which occurred, this time in my personal life. This situation was slightly different to the one I outlined above. This time, I wasn’t given the option to refuse but was cornered into a rather awkward social situation through trickery and deceit. My best friend asked if I wanted to catch up with her over a meal at a restaurant in the city. We arrived at the restaurant, were given menus soon afterwards and placed our orders. To my surprise, while we were waiting for our food to arrive, my friend’s brother, his girlfriend and a guy I did not know walked into the restaurant and sat down with us. To cut a long story short, my friend had colluded with her family to set me up with someone they knew. Running into them at the same restaurant that evening was no coincidence, but rather a rather elaborate scheme they had concocted for us to get to know each other. Afterwards, it took some probing on my part before my friend admitted that the situation had been a total set up. I am not the kind of person who makes assumptions or jumps to conclusions without solid evidence, possibly the consequence of spending years working on contentious matters and poring over evidence as a lawyer. In her partial defence, my friend told me that she had decided to act in this manner because I may have shut the door on a possibility if she had asked for my permission beforehand. In other words, I might have said no. However, everyone has the right to refuse a proposal, whatever their reasons. Respect is key. Being introduced through friends is common in the dating world, but the parties are normally informed and agree to meet each other beforehand.
To close, this anecdote somewhat sadly illustrates how the failure to take no for an answer, or indeed place someone in a position where they do not even have the power to say no can damage a relationship permanently. We are no longer friends as a result of not only her actions but also her underlying reasoning, which hurt me on an even deeper level. To conclude, it is simply unacceptable to lie to someone as a means of avoiding negotiation and therefore the possibility of a proposition being declined.
In New Zealand, we are gradually moving into the winter season. Each day is becoming much cooler now, not only in the morning and evening but also during the daytime. The days have become shorter too. The sun has been rising much later and night descends upon us more rapidly. In the garden, growth has slowed considerably. In Auckland, we are fortunate that growth does not come to a grinding halt altogether, as it does in more temperate zones such as parts of Northern America and Europe, which become snowbound in winter. At least it is possible for us to have a productive winter flower and vegetable garden, even if we are limited in terms of what we can grow over the cooler months. For a list of vegetables I am growing in autumn and winter this year, please click here. For a list of flowers I am growing for these seasons, click here.
Due to the cold, I generally find germination rates very low at this time of the year. I therefore try to avoid propagating plants from seed now. In fact, I aim to have sown all flower and vegetable seeds for the winter garden by the end of March. The month of March marks the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the weather is usually still very warm. I think one of the main reasons that seeds fail to germinate from April until about September (when spring arrives and it starts becoming warmer again) is due to a condition known as dampening off. Cooler mornings and nights, combined with warmer periods during the day, make for fluctuations in temperature. This, exacerbated by excess moisture from frequent downpours of rain, essentially causes seeds to rot.
Once the flower and vegetable seeds I sowed in March have germinated and grown a bit, I carefully transplant them from propagating punnets into larger 6-cell punnets or seedling trays. These plants, along with my spring bulbs, form the basis for my winter garden. By the end of the month of April, I aim to plant all of my flower and vegetable seedlings so they have enough time to become established before the winter sets in. With the assistance of two young female wwoofers from Germany, I managed to do just that prior to leaving for our trip to our holiday home in the Bay of Islands at the beginning of May.
I normally plant all my spring bulbs by the end of April too, with the exception of the hyacinth, tulips and anemones. As our winters are relatively mild (even if they may not feel that way to us!), these bulbs require a period of chilling prior to planting in order to flower successfully. My hyacinth, tulips and anemones were refrigerated about eight weeks ago and will be ready to slip into the ground later this week upon our return. Thanks to the wonderful assistance from our lovely Canadian wwoofer Abby, I actually managed to plant all my spring bulbs (except for the hyacinth, tulips and anemones) in early April.
The key to success in the garden at this time of the year is to protect young seedlings from frost, as well as slugs and snails. Plant protection can be simple and inexpensive, yet effective. Cut a plastic milk or soft drink bottle in half, remove the cap and place it over a young seedling. Using this method, I have had great success in helping young plants become established at this time of the year. One of the best things about winter is that cooler temperatures, coupled with frequent showers, means that the garden does not need to be watered or irrigated. Overall, while winter gardening may not seem as grand as summer gardening, less maintenance and care is required and it is still possible to continue to eat fresh produce from the home garden over the coldest months of the year in New Zealand.
Since January this year, Mum and I have been hosting WWOOFers at Anita’s Garden. WWOOF is an international organisation which operates in many countries around the world. It stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. The concept is relatively simple. Travellers, both foreigners and nationals, are provided with accommodation and meals by hosts in exchange for 4-6 hours of assistance outdoors each day. The work undertaken by travellers is voluntary in nature. The idea is for hosts to teach wwoofers about organic principles and sustainable living. The organisation also promotes the concept of a cultural exchange, whereby hosts and volunteers can learn from one another on a variety of levels.
As many of you will know, we do not live on a farm, but rather an urban property in Auckland. Prior to joining WWOOF New Zealand (http://www.wwoof.co.nz/), I enquired whether owners of urban properties qualified to become hosts so long as they were committed to producing food in accordance with organic principles. Fortunately for us, WWOOF NZ was extremely supportive of the concept of an organic urban homestead and encouraged us to register as hosts. With section sizes decreasing globally, the organisation felt that it would be good for volunteers to see how a large quantity of food could be produced in a relatively small space.
Since joining WWOOF, we have hosted seven sets of wwoofers from the following countries: France, the United States of America, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. For the next two months, we will be welcoming two further French pairs and also two individual travellers from Slovakia. So far, we have been very impressed by the way the scheme operates and by the calibre of the volunteers who have stayed with us. Each wwoofer, in his or her own way, has contributed tremendously to the development of Anita’s Garden and left a lasting imprint on our lives. We really enjoy working together as a team and find that we can accomplish so much more than if we worked on our own. We also have a lot more fun in Anita’s Garden! Both mum and I take our responsibility as educators very seriously. We do our best to ensure that wwoofers leave Anita’s Garden having learnt a lot about gardening and acquired new skills. As wwoofers have often spent time volunteering at other properties in New Zealand, we have found that we have also learned a lot from wwoofers and their own experiences. Wwoofers have continually reminded us that we should feel very grateful for the fact that we can grow edibles year round, which is not possible during the more temperate winters in Northern America and Europe for the most part. For this reason, quite a few wwoofers were in awe of our lemon tree, which we found amusing as it is a pretty standard feature in most New Zealand gardens. We all love gathering around the table for lunch and dinner each day, which are both prepared by mum and draw upon as much fresh produce from Anita’s Garden as possible. We have had some very interesting conversations with wwoofers during our meals, as well as lots of laughter. Back in February, we were even spoiled by a couple from the United States who cooked for us, making homemade sushi twice and also a delicious Thai curry.
About a month ago, we registered as hosts with a similar organisation called HelpX (http://www.helpx.net/index.asp). The main difference between WWOOF and HelpX is that the former focuses on the production of organic food and the involvement of wwoofers in those activities, whereas the assistance provided by volunteers through HelpX can be more general in nature. As mentioned above, two French pairs will be staying with us after we return home from our holiday tomorrow. These volunteers were booked through HelpX. Through these experiences, it will be interesting to compare and contrast the two organisations. In particular, I am curious as to whether there are any differences in expectations on both the part of both hosts and volunteers.
If any of you have been either a volunteer or host via WWOOF or HelpX, I would be most interested to hear from you. In which country did you either volunteer or host a volunteer? What was your experience like?
I am currently on a belated summer holiday at our bach (beach house) in Tauranga Bay, in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Despite its name, Tauranga Bay is not located in Tauranga but rather in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. Over the summer we were both very busy as the New Zealand Gardener Magazine were writing an article about our garden and the plants were photographed regularly by a professional photographer from Fairfax Media. This explains why we are both taking a rather late vacation in the month of May, which normally signals the end of New Zealand’s autumn season. That said it has actually been rather pleasant up north and we have been lucky to have some lovely weather without the hordes of tourists that are drawn to the region during the summer.
The physical distance from Anita’s Garden during our holiday has given me some time to reflect on some well-known gardens that I would like to visit (or indeed revisit) during my lifetime. I am so busy in our garden that I barely have a chance to visit some of our lovely local gardens which are maintained by the council, never mind travel overseas to visit famous gardens there. I suppose one is allowed to day dream and so far there are three gardens in Europe that are on my wish list.
1. David Austin’s gardens in England http://www.davidaustinroses.com/
David Austin is perhaps one of the world’s best known rose breeders who hails from England. I adore roses. I have quite a collection of roses in Anita’s Garden. I am a huge fan of Austin roses and, more generally, old English roses. Their beauty is simply stunning and they are usually very fragrant. I really regret not visiting David Austin’s gardens in England while I was working as a lawyer in London. At the time, I was an urbanite living in an apartment in Central London. Although I have always admired and appreciated flowers, I had no interest in gardening, nor did I intend to have a garden myself. I would love nothing more than to wander around Austin’s gardens and quite literally smell the roses.
Of course, the selection of Austin roses available in New Zealand is very limited, so I wouldn’t be able to plant replicas exactly according to my heart’s desire. At the moment, I don't actually have any Austin roses in Anita's Garden. They can be difficult to find in garden centres, at least in the Auckland region. The only way to secure them is to place an order with a specialist rose nursery, such as Tasman Bay Roses (http://www.tbr.co.nz/). To avoid disappointment, this must be done as far in advance as possible because they are very popular and sell out quickly. I do however have three varieties of roses which are recommended on David Austin's website ( http://www.davidaustinroses.com/). I have Just Joey (a frilly apricot coloured Hybrid Tea rose), Margaret Merril (a pearly white Floribunda rose with a tinge of satin pink) and Champagne Moment (another Floribunda rose which is deep apricot in colour and pales to a pearly white).
I am adding quite a few Austin roses to my existing rose garden this winter, which I am very excited about. I will be keeping an eye on specialist rose nurseries in New Zealand for new Austin releases to add to my collection in future.
2. Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands https://keukenhof.nl/en/
Despite visiting the Netherlands in winter while I lived and worked in Europe, I somehow also didn’t manage to visit the gardens at Keukenhof. This is one of my deepest disappointments. The magnificent display of spring bulbs such as tulips, dutch iris and daffodils attracts millions of tourists every year. Due to my existing commitments with Anita’s Garden, I can’t see myself being able to visit Holland in the near future. I’ve therefore had to settle for creating my own mini-Keukenhof at home. Over the past month, I’ve been busy planting lots of daffodils, dutch iris and freesia which I hope will give us a splendid show. My tulips, hyacinths and anemones are still in the fridge, chilling out. In Auckland, our winters can be quite mild so it becomes necessary to pre-chill certain bulbs such as these in order for them to flower well (or even at all). I’ll plant these out when I return home next week.
3. Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny, in Normandy, France http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/visitgb.htm
This is actually one garden that I did manage to visit while I lived in Europe and one which I would love to see again. Monet is my all-time favourite artist. For me, wandering around his gardens at Giverny and seeing the water lily pond which featured in some of his most famous works was an incredible experience. The little village that the gardens are situated in is rather charming, too.
Are there any other gardens which I have left out and that you would recommend? They need not be in Europe – they might be on other continents or perhaps even right here in New Zealand. I am open to any suggestions!