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Maryellen Gor

Living Gracefully by Growing
Your Personal Garden

by Maryellen Gor

Finding time to fit in job responsibilities, family responsibilities, and then also find time for you can be challenging. Growing Your Personal Garden is my vision of how you can use nature and the beauty of flowers to live gracefully and control your stress. Nurturing and creating a path to help others grow and bloom is my passion and mission.

I came upon my Personal Garden as I was researching and writing my first book, Blooming Late: Cultivating Your Self-Esteem After Fifty. The experience helped me create the Blooming series that is now helping others to bloom at any age. I have always been in love with flowers so using flowers and words like blooming and growing seemed an appropriate metaphor.

I believe that if we look at ourselves like a garden and provide loving care and patience, we can create a calmer, more relaxed way of living, allowing us to face everyday challenges with strength, courage, and less stress. By doing that, you treat your stress as if it were weeds. Stress sprouts in unwanted places, choking out the fun, beauty, and joy of life. If you control the weeds of stress, youíll live a happier and a healthier life.

By Growing Your Personal Garden, nature and the accessibility and beauty of flowers and plants will help you live your life with serenity, peacefulness, and grace.

Flower Garden

Weíre all affected by stress, whether weíre school children, corporate professionals, or retirees. Stress related disorders are to blame for 75% of doctor visits, according to The American Academy of Family Physicians. Stress causes 1 million people to miss work every day and accounts for 50% of employee burnout and 40% of workforce turnover.

How can we, in todayís ever-hectic environment, find a way to slow down, take a breath, and still get work done? When I know that I need to take a break and just sit back and unwind, I think of a place that is serene, beautiful and peaceful. I think of a garden. I can see beauty, softness, unusual shapes, brilliant petals and spectacular colors. I can even smell the blooms!

According to horticultural experts, the physical and mental health benefits of plants and flowers are:

  • Reducing blood pressure,
  • Helping improve motivation and morale, as well as
  • Creating calmness.

To me, a garden brings a sense of serenity, peace, harmony, and happiness.

Growing Your Personal Garden is a metaphor for managing your life using gardening terms. Many people have told me that by growing their personal garden they have reduced their stress levels significantly.

Growing Your Personal Garden is a process, divided into four steps that will help you plan, plant, grow and maintain your own personal garden, a garden made up, either visually or metaphorically, of the elements you decide are important in your life at the present time.

This simple four-step process will allow you to take control of your life and increase your productivity at work. You will find professional and personal relationships become much better because you are less stressed. The four-steps to Growing Your Personal Garden are:

Step One: Preparing the Ground
Step Two: Planting the Seeds
Step Three: Growing Your Personal Garden
Step Four: Maintaining Your Personal Garden

And like any garden, you will see the results of your labor as you see yourself and your life grow and bloom, creating a garden that will last you a lifetime.

Step One: Preparing the Ground

Identify the life markers that are important to you. Is it abundance? Is it beauty? Or, do you have one of your own?

Life Markers

When I think about the way I live my life, I like to think that I manage my life like tending a garden. It takes care and patience and the ability to see the big picture. One of the ways to see the big picture is to reflect on what your needs and values are. I call these Life Markers. They are a way to keep you focused on the needs and values you have identified for yourself. I have provided a list of Life Markers to help you choose. See how many of them are most important to you.

Which ones become apparent to you right away; showing that they are extremely important for you to be aware of each day? You may want to start with three. You may even decide you want to choose three for work and three for at home. For example, my life markers are abundance, beauty, confidence, harmony, joy and respect.

L I F E M A R K E R S:







Job tranquility












Personal development








Public service






Close relationships




















Defining Life Markers

What I have found so empowering about growing my personal garden are the six life markers I have chosen that are most important in my life. These represent the big picture to me of keeping whatís important in my life in front of me all the time and at the same time these six life markers help reduce my stress. They keep me in a positive, moving forward position. I donít get stuck and I can feel the energy of these six life markers in the following ways:

ABUNDANCE: I realize that I have an ABUNDANCE of nurturing, supportive friends and family in my network. They raise my energy level because they believe in me, value me, and we can have fun together.

It was back in 1987, when I came to realize my ABUNDANCE of strengths and talents. I met five women who became my coaches and I realized one thing: that I could have talents, strengths, and flaws and thatís okay. Run with the strengths and talents. Everyone has flaws. Your flaws may be someone elseís strengths; so you create a win/win.

I also came to realize that I have an ABUNDANCE of contributions I have made to the workplace and to my relationships. My awareness of this catapults me to wanting to do more.

BEAUTY: I am constantly aware of where I create BEAUTY in my surroundings at home. My home is my haven. It is a place I have beauty, warmth, and a soft place to fall. As I write this book, I am surrounded by beauty. Iím at my computer with a candle burning and a classical music CD playing in my computer while I write. A cup of pumpkin spiced coffee is at my side. The walls of my office are covered with beautiful works of art, mostly of flowers and pleasing to the eye. That beautiful ambiance puts me in a very productive mood. I thrive on it.

I love flowers; they represent BEAUTY for me. When Iím not traveling around the country, I make sure when Iím home that I have fresh flowers throughout my house. For less than twenty dollars, I can put flower arrangements in my kitchen, my family room, my dining room, and my master bath.

Another way to add BEAUTY to my life is having dinner in the dining room. The table setting looks beautiful: glassware, dishes, placemats, linen napkins, silverware, along with a centerpiece of my beautiful flowers and candles. Dining by candlelight two to three times a week is a way for my husband and I to "chill out" and enjoy a relaxing meal in a beautiful setting. To complete the ambiance, we have classical music playing in the background; some Mozart, Strauss, or Chopin.

CONFIDENCE: My self-confidence was greatly enhanced in 1987. The coaches I talked about earlier really showed me what I had to offer and it gave me a whole new look at myself. My CONFIDENCE blossomed. I now take more risks in my career. Back in 1987 I was a manager in a public utility and I realized I wanted to be a management consultant in business for myself. Those coaches showed me how because thatís what they were when I met them.

Today, sixteen years later, I have been a consultant for thirteen years. But from that coaching experience, I have also become a professional speaker, an author, a personal development coach, and a leadership consultant. And, along the way, I have included others who have been my coaches as well, including my husband, Larry, a person who always believed in me even before I believed in myself.

Looking back on being coached, I noticed two things: one was having courage and the other was how I viewed others and myself. The courage aspect had to do with courage to receive constructive feedback and the courage to have difficult conversations. Courage is one of the most important aspects of developing our self-confidence. Viewing others and myself had to do with seeing others and myself as assets, not liabilities. You generate even more confidence in yourself as well as others.

HARMONY: To me, having HARMONY in my life means that I have balance between time for self, time for family, time for career, and time for social life. I believe I do this very well because I do the first one well: make time for myself. I am firmly convinced by those experts that say you need to provide time for yourself because you will then be able to help others. That is very true. To some people, it sounds selfish. It is not. It is really playing the role of self-care provider. It will greatly reduce your stress and at the same time it attends to your needs. This element of harmony also relates to the RESPECT element, satisfying your needs.

In relating HARMONY to time for family and time for social life, I realize the vacations my husband and I take are very important to us. To get away from 2 weeks of winter, we like to go to Hawaii where itís warm, enchanting, and the ocean is 79į . Another type of vacation are those extended 3-4 day weekend vacations at a bed & breakfast.

JOY: Again in 1987, my coaches made me realize how important JOY was in my life. That it was okay to bring humor into your reputation, into the workplace, and just being with people. Having a sense of humor, not only makes you more pleasant to be around, but it enhances your reputation. My husband is a perfect example. Itís part of his reputation. Being married to him for almost 30 years, we have faced some difficult challenges but we have done a lot of laughing as well.

I know one thing about me; I need JOY in my life. I am constantly aware of that. As Iím writing this book on my computer, ELMOís face is looking at me. Of all the Muppets, he makes me laugh the most. His voice, his bantering are so enjoyable to watch. One day I was in a candy store at the beach and saw this candy basket made of ELMOís head. Instead of putting candy into it, I put my pens and pencils in it; itís on my desk to constantly make me aware of JOY and laughter. You just canít look at ELMO and not laugh. Who is your favorite cartoon character that could remind you of JOY and laughter? Who are the people in your life with whom you find JOY?

RESPECT: RESPECT for myself has to do with honoring my needs, boundaries and priorities. One of the greatest gifts I give to myself is honoring my needs. I have manicures twice a month, a pedicure, massage, and facial once a month. Everyday I read part of a mystery novel because I love books and Iím always either learning by them or being entertained by them.

I am also aware of my boundaries and how I honor them. I know what Iím willing to do and what Iím not willing to do and I am not afraid to voice those choices to others; knowing that they may not like it. I can live with that. An example that comes to my mind is when a friend asked me to sell tickets for a political fundraiser. She automatically assumed I would sell the tickets because she said she was sending me 10 tickets. After she was finished speaking, I told her I am not available to sell any tickets and I would send her a check for one ticket that someone else could use because I would be out of town. She said okay; thanked me and that ended the conversation. Our friendship was not damaged in any way; we are still friends.

When you are asked to do something you feel you have a choice with, and you know you do not want to do it; think about how you can create a win/win. I dislike selling; it is not one of my strengths. However, I did want to support the political candidate. When you really stop to think about having choices, decide accordingly. When you learn how to say "no" instead of "yes"; it shows people how to RESPECT your boundaries and it builds more confidence in yourself.

Now that you have seen how I arrived at selecting my particular life markers, Identify the life markers that are important to you and then go to Step Two.

Step Two: Planting the Seeds

Now that youíve identified your life markers, select the flowers that represent them.

You have two choices when it comes to selecting flowers for your personal garden; one way is to adopt flower symbolism from folklore. You can use various search engines; for example, Google or Ask Jeeves. One particular website that you can also find flower symbolism is www.myteleflora.com. For example, pink hyacinths mean play, having fun.

The second way is to select flowers that have a special meaning to you based on the people you want to remember. For example, I lost a dear aunt a while ago who favorite color was pink. She wore pink dresses, pink sweaters, pink jewelry. So, anytime I see a pink flower, it reminds me of her.

Using Flower Symbolism in the Personal Garden

When I started to think of my life like tending a garden, I began to research flower symbolism. I wanted to create a personal garden that had blooms that represented what I wanted to have in my daily life. I wanted to keep this garden in front of me each day so it would remind me of those elements that I needed to reduce my stress and lead a life filled with ABUNDANCE, BEAUTY, CONFIDENCE, HARMONY, JOY, and RESPECT. My research led me to develop a garden that consisted of those flowers and plants that represented various feelings or attitudes of those six elements. Here is a list of flowers in my first personal garden:

Flower and its Meaning

Life Marker it represents:

Amaryllis Ė Beauty


Fern Ė Confidence


Forget-Me-Not Ė Remembrance


Iris Ė Wisdom


Lily of the Valley Ė Increased Happiness


Orchid Ė Respect


Pansy Ė Thoughtfulness


Pink Hyacinth Ė Play


Rose Ė Gratitude


Sweet William Ė Courage


My personal garden allows me to feel calmer and more relaxed which enables me to handle the challenges I face everyday. When you have chosen your flowers along with their meanings that represent your life markers, you are then ready for Step Three.

Step Three: Growing Your Personal Garden

Now that you have seen how important it is to select Life Markers that symbolize whatís important in your life and the flowers they represent, letís begin to explore how you Grow Your Personal Garden.

Once you have defined your life markers and paired them with flowers, you have four ways to grow your personal garden:

  • Select personal objects you already own that you enjoy that have flowers, such as artwork, coffee mugs, or other home dťcor items.
  • Collect seed packets or colored pictures of flowers and create visual boards or collages for your home or office.
  • Plant an actual garden containing the flowers you have selected for your life markers or buy fresh flowers that represent your life markers.
  • Any combination of the above.

For your personal garden, you could actually plant the flowers you want to have represented by the six life markers or you can create visual boards like I did. I created six visual boards, one for each life marker, and I cut out beautiful flowers from gardening books and arranged them on poster board to keep in front of me each day. I also used seed packets to glue on the visual boards when I couldnít find pictures in gardening books.

Another way to create visual boards is to create PowerPoint slides and find pictures of flowers on the Internet. Then use some fancy fonts and identify the flower and its meaning underneath the picture while arranging the flowers representing each life marker in a creative way. After you have completed creating each slide, print them on photo paper and mount them on some foam board that you can buy in any craft store and arrange your personal garden visual boards in your office.

Once you have decided how you are going to grow your personal garden, go on to the last step, Step Four.

Step Four: Maintaining Your Personal Garden

Whether you are at home, outdoors, at the office, or traveling, you can grow and maintain your personal garden anywhere, anytime. You can even select a time of day to reconnect with your life markers; such as early morning, during lunch, after work, or before bedtime.

For example, when I was in New York City on business, I stopped at the corner stand and bought a bunch of white orchids for $5; took them back to my hotel room, placed them in water and enjoyed growing my personal garden while Iím away from home.

My sister Monica maintains her personal garden by placing her fresh cut blooms in the kitchen, dining room and living room. She and her husband get to enjoy them at breakfast time as they gracefully beautify the kitchen table.

As you can see, it is very easy to live gracefully by Growing Your Personal Garden. What does your personal garden look like?

© Copyright 2003 Maryellen Gor.  All rights reserved. Excerpted from her upcoming book, Watering the Blooms: Growing Your Personal Garden.

Maryellen Gor
Maryellen Gor is an author, personal development coach, and president of Profits with People, a business consulting company. To learn more about Growing Your Personal Garden, visit her website at www.WateringCanProductions.com.


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