10/02/2012 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good (Or, Lessons From an Imperfect Garden)


You probably are familiar with the Voltaire quote, and as I get older I find myself living the intent of these words more often. This doesn't mean that you don't try and do your best, it is more about deciding what your real priorities are, and most importantly using the little time we have every day on those priorities.

In my business, there really isn't a perfect garden it is more a matter of taste and style. Design is subjective that way. What is perfect to one client may be awful to another. The key is to try and figure out what "perfect" -- or as close as we can get -- means to that client. There are those clients where that goal is more elusive as they don't really know what that means for them. In my days as a novice landscape designer I would struggle and often lose money trying to get to this client's idea of perfection. I now realize this may not be achievable as the client really doesn't know. The funny thing is that quite often six months or a year later I will hear from that client on how much they love their garden. It kind of grew on them, as it were.

Many people I see struggle on a daily basis with their own personal definition of perfection. The crazy thing is that when they do achieve it they really don't relish in the accomplishment for long. There is always another hurdle to jump in their quest for perfection. I have a friend who works in her garden daily for several hours. There are always plants being moved or removed, new plants added. She never gets to the point of really being done and sitting in the garden to enjoy it, which is a pity because the garden is truly lovely. A place where, if you do sit quietly for a while, you will appreciate the silence, the scent of the flowers, and the wild life it attracts. You only see this if you are still and not striving for perfection.

I used to spend a lot of time in my garden to achieve a more manicured look. At that point in my life it was about impressing folks. It was more about how people saw me. Now that I am older I worry less about what a large group of people may think of me -- many of whom I may not even know or at least not know well. Instead my benchmark is more of an internal benchmark -- again, what my priorities are. There is only a small group of people in my life whose input really matters to me now. What I have found is that my friends and family care more about my interactions and time I spend with them than how my garden looks. So the relationships became the priority rather than the picture-perfect garden.

Just like in an actual garden, I have weeded out those friends that really didn't have the time to devote to our friendship. It was not a priority for them. I just found that if I was the one calling, emailing, or texting the majority of the time that said to me that this friendship was pretty one sided -- time to weed it from the garden. Some folks might find that harsh. But in my garden I want my time to be well spent and reciprocated -- not one sided. There are other places I can spend my time where it will be valued and appreciated.

As I look out on my garden now, the lawn is looking a bit long and I know I need to get the seeds started for my winter vegetables. It will have to wait another day or two. My best friend -- my four-legged best friend, that is -- is looking at me with his hopeful eyes. It has been a few weeks since we have gone to the dog park and that is the priority.