Profitable Pottering
April 18, 2024

by Kate and Len Lucas

We have read one dictionary definition of pottering as “moving about slowly in an unproductive manner” which sounds more like a description of our government rather than one of gardening’s most rewarding activities.

Upon closer inspection of the dictionary book of words that you didn’t think needed any explanation at all, the only bit that is true is the word “slowly”. That’s because pottering should only be done slowly, and why is that you may wonder? It’s because proper pottering is a journey of discovery and is one of the few things left which is free, can’t be taxed, nobody cares how long it takes and some might suggest it is yoga for the elderly.

Whatever time of day you choose to potter is up to you and you have every right to wander round your own garden and take it all in because it’s all yours. However you notice that something has changed. Things that weren’t there yesterday, like that dandelion, have made their appearance and one of the roses is now out of shape and the greenfly has come back not to mention the odd dead bloom and that plant over there has outgrown it’s space and looks a bit out of place now. And have you noticed that those weeds, which grow at breakneck speed, never seem to attract pests or diseases?

So the result of your potter, we hope, is a feeling of pride about what you have created but now there is a collection of chores that must be done. As long as you can remember what they were, and find the time to do them before another load of stuff turns up. So please allow us the indulgence of a little history to look for a solution.

This problem of working hard to put something together and keep it together but being constantly presented with a long list of things that need to be done to keep it together is not new. So here is something from the distant past which we put into practice all the time which we hope might help.

A long time ago in the USA a man called Ivy Lee was asked by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation for his ideas as to how the company could improve it’s productivity.

After some time he came up with the idea that managers should make a list of the top six most important things to do and not to add any more until all the things on that list were completed. Ideas like that have turned today into what is called management consultancy. Such activity has been unfairly described as telling a company what they already know and charging a large fee. The owner of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation was so impressed with Ivy Lee that they paid him $25,000, equivalent today to nearly half a million dollars.

So we suggest that the potter should be a regular event and cover all your garden. Therefore as you contemplate today’s potter grab a small notebook, a pen and a glass of something. As you potter, slowly of course, make a note of those things that need attention as they present themselves on your journey of discovery and do what your list tells you to do.

We do it several times a week in the true Ivy Lee tradition but we don’t stop when the list gets to six and very little gets forgotten because it’s written down. The therapeutic effect of being on top of what needs doing at a time when a hundred things need doing all at once is very noticeable-at least we think so.

One consequence of all that is the observation that pottering is the complete opposite of shopping which is where you start off with a list and end up with a bill as compared to pottering where you end up with a list and there is no bill at all.

Whoever wrote the entry in that dictionary on this subject is we suggest guilty of an unfortunate combination of two words, pottering and unproductive.

And remember: proper passionate pottering with pen and paper is a productive, peaceful pastime.