Everyone has neighbours. Unfortunately we can’t live in a vacuum. We have to live next door to someone. In a suburb like ours, people live on 1/5th acre sections. Even if you live on a dairy farm, you still have neighbours, except they’re a lot further away. Neighbours behave differently according to where they are located. For example, relations between neighbours in France are different to relations between neighbours in New Zealand. Even exclusive areas may contain a local busybody who asks lots of personal questions.
If neighbours are spending all their time talking and thinking about other people in the neighbourhood, they are doing very little to develop their own lives and gardens. The key is to develop the ability to filter out such negative energy. Remember that it is none of their business and they should respect other people’s privacy. Some people, such as retirees, do not work and they have nothing better to do than gossip about others or their gardens. Our general impression is that neighbours have not been happy when wwoofers have stayed with us, nor have they liked us having such a large garden infront of our house. We have been criticised for the amount of money we spend on the garden, yet it is none of their business. We make sacrifices in other areas as we find gardening gratifying and are dedicated to preserving bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. We have also been told that we should put the garden back into lawn.
There are several ways that prying neighbours can be handled but it depends on the circumstances. I try to be polite but if people persist in asking personal questions, it is acceptable to tell them to mind their own business.
Gardening obviously requires a lot of time to be spent outdoors in the sun. It is important to look after your skin. The UV rays in New Zealand can be very fierce. Suncream and sunglasses are a good idea, even outside summer. Skin can burn very easily and it is important to look after your eyes in order to prevent diseases. The skin around the eyes is also very sensitive. A hat is also very helpful and can help to protect skin around the neck.
People in your personal and professional circles may be quite negative when you move into a new venture. There are some people that don’t like change. Unfortunately, not everyone will be happy for you if you succeed. If you are perceived as a tall poppy in your field, you will quickly be cut down to size. The golden rule is that it is acceptable to distance yourself from others if they are insulting or offending you, even if they are family members.
Remember that there are some people that will always have something to say, and it will always be negative in nature. If you are working hard to establish a new profile, they will be quick to call you a workaholic. Yet if you sit in bed watching Netflix all day, you will be accused of being lazy and not contributing to society. If you care about your appearance, you are vain but if you do not, you have let yourself go. And so on. Ignore these people as you will never be able to win, whatever you do.
The key is to keep your circle of trusted associates very exclusive (which may well prove a moveable feast because friends come and go all the time). Don’t worry if people accuse you of being a snob for being selective about who you mix with. Filter any negative energy from outside that zone. In some cases, you may not be able to eliminate people who are putting you down completely because they may be family members. I am hardly the Emily Post of etiquette, but in my view, if someone is really upsetting you on purpose, it is fine to distance yourself from them. Remember the saying (which also seems to be a popular tattoo these days), “blood makes you related, loyalty makes you family”.
If people are talking about you behind your back, that too can generate negative energy. However, this is difficult to prove (ie both that it generates negative energy in the atmosphere and that they are saying things about you) as you must have evidence or it will all be in your imagination. If people are talking about you behind your back then they are not using their time productively which could be used to develop their garden. But if this is actually happening, be flattered. At least people find you interesting enough to talk about!
Don’t be surprised if you have difficulty relating to people who have the luxury of not working. You have to be thick-skinned to survive in the working world, and we don’t all have the luxury of being kept women. A lot of people don’t understand how rewarding we find our work.
Finally, some people ask too many personal questions and ought to learn how to mind their own business (if they have one).
Reflections on the value of higher education, years spent working as a lawyer in large corporate law firms internationally and where I am today
“It’s not like you’ll ever practice law again” someone once told me. This really hurt my feelings. Education and experience in the workforce is never a waste of time. I wouldn’t be able to run an extensive urban farm and operate my own business had I not studied law and arts at university. Education and work experience gave me the confidence and skills to branch out into a new venture. Study does not restrict a person to a particular vocation. It should broaden a person’s intellectual horizons and develop critical thinking. When I returned to New Zealand after spending many years working at an international law firm, I changed practice areas. This would not have been possible without my academic background, coupled with solid work experience in many different practice groups. Education builds a foundation for the future. Work experience gives a person life skills. On a more serious level, you should be able to start again financially even if you lose your entire net worth.
While working as a lawyer for an international firm in England and France, I represented large companies in both transactional and contentious matters. In doing so, I learnt a lot about the way businesses operate and how they are structured.
I also learnt how to negotiate which is useful when owning a business. When negotiating supply agreements, prices are negotiable. While contracts can have a fixed duration, there may be a mechanism for adjusting the price.
My legal education is useful in terms of researching issues related to the garden. A long time ago, a neighbour planted a willow tree near the boundary with our section. The roots of the willow tree (which are notorious for spreading in their search for water, hence why they are often planted along river banks), as well as a Cotoneaster tree (classified by the council as an invasive weed) travelled underneath the foundations of our house. We were also concerned that the roots of these trees would interfere with our drains. Pipes can be extremely expensive to repair. I was interested in learning both of our rights and obligations in respect of the trees and felt grateful that I was able to research this on my own.
I own and operate my own business. I have no background in running a business. I didn’t do a Commerce degree at university, nor do I have an MBA degree. I also didn’t have a business plan.
In terms of my career, it was one of two things that I always swore I’d never do. The other was to be a politician. My reluctance to own a business may be surprising for some people, who prefer to be their own boss. However, I have never had trouble working for someone else in my previous positions, in fact I enjoyed the team dynamic very much. I have no background in running a business. I didn’t do a Commerce degree at uni, nor do I have an MBA.
Running a business entails a high level of risk. Lawyers prefer to advise on risks rather than run them. I was lucky as I didn’t require a bank loan to start Anita’s Garden.
Like law, the higher you want to go with the business, the harder you have to work. Building an empire can be enriching. Businesses employ staff therefore increasing the workforce and are in a position to make a difference in the world.
For me, one of the most difficult aspects of running a business is accepting money from customers. At a law firm, funds are handled by the billing department so the issue is less uncomfortable, unless of course the client wants to complain about the bill. I also struggle with profit margins as it just seems wrong to make money from marking up stock.
One of the advantages is that it enables me to have a bit more freedom. Unlike at a large law firm with corporate clients, I can hold shares without being accused of insider trading. I also have more freedom in how I structure my day. The home, garden and office are conveniently rolled into one. This saves commuting time. As I am my own boss I am even able to go for a run in the middle of the day which is handy as the days are quite cool and short at this time of the year. I also get to spend more time with Ginger, a stray cat who was always hanging around in the garden and rapidly found a way into our home and hearts. But for those of you who do work in a large firm, you have to look on the bright side. Having a separation between work and home can be nice (unless of course you are constantly bringing work home or can’t stop thinking about work). Furthermore, if you ever get locked out of your home or apartment, at least you can rely on the law firm’s office always being open.
For those looking to launch their own venture, here are a few tips. Scribble all your ideas in a notebook. Don’t share them with anyone. You have to be secretive to have a competitive edge. You might also be teased by family and friends that they are pure grandeur.
Be prepared to be tenacious in promoting your business. Social media is the best (and often free) means of advertising.
Be careful what you say, both online and offline. You certainly don’t want to be sued for defamation!
Make sure that you keep accounting records for tax purposes. I feel fortunate that I studied accounting at school and also that Dad gave me extra tuition over the weekends as he was an accountant.
Businesses require open communication. This is quite different to law where you try to say as little as possible, while at the same time trying to cover the firm and the client as much as possible. Naturally, this is a difficult task and it is for this reason that lawyers can justify charging the earth for their services.
In the future, I am interested to see if I can help people overseas. I did end up practising international law so it is perhaps natural for my interest in gardening to take an international dimension. To me, it does not matter if climates or growing conditions are different to those in New Zealand. With adequate research, it should be possible to advise gardeners on how to adapt their growing methods accordingly. Concepts such as vertical gardening are relevant globally.
Anita’s Garden grew organically. It stemmed from a hobby that, put simply, makes me happy. I was fortunate to grow up on a ¼ acre section in Whangarei surrounded by fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. I helped my parents in the garden over the weekends. In those days there were no Xboxes, smart phones, Ipads or even the internet.
Gardening is great therapy for grief, as I discovered after Dad passed away in 2012. I planted an oriental lily called “Hot Spot” in the garden in his memory.
Gardening is also great therapy for stress. From September until April, the garden is a nice place to spend time after a day at the office, when the days are longer in the Southern Hemisphere and it is possible to potter around outdoors. The garden is also a great place to take your mind off your problems, because nature can be very healing. It is gratifying when something grows. Flowers in bloom are beautiful left outside or can be picked and brought inside to admire.
If you live in an apartment in a big city, try having a few pot plants on your balcony. If this isn’t practicable, the next best thing is to visit a public park or garden. I highly recommend Kew Gardens in London and the Gardens of Versailles outside Paris. Whenever I felt down while I was living in Europe, I always felt better after wandering around a public garden.
I really enjoy growing our own fruit and vegetables. However, complete self-sufficiency remains an unrealistic goal for many reasons. Firstly, there are space constraints on an urban section. Secondly, it is difficult to produce fruit and vegetables evenly throughout the year due to uneven temperatures, which can cause crops to bolt to seed prematurely.
Working outdoors with soil, seeds and plants has kept me grounded and taught me to appreciate what’s really essential to our survival. Air, water, food and shelter (put simply, protection from the elements) are basic necessities in life. Some sunlight is probably helpful too, for vitamin D. The internet, hair straighteners and luxury cosmetics are not necessary to our survival. While it's understandable to want to enjoy the finer things that life has to offer, I have relished being taken back to basics.
In my next blog post, I will discuss how I created my own startup, Anita’s Garden, in more detail.