Would You Rather Be An Excellent Gardener or A Successful Gardener?

I read a Dale Carnegie quote earlier this week and my thoughts turned to gardening, as they always do.

Before you read the quote, take a minute to answer this question:

Would you rather be an excellent gardener or a successful gardener?

I suspect most of us would like to be a successful gardener but how would that success be measured? If we chose to be an excellent gardener, how would we define what “excellence” is?

Dale Carnegie provides an answer that may influence those who chose “successful” to change their choice to “excellent”.

“Success bases our worth on a comparison with others. Excellence gauges our value by measuring us against our own potential. Success grants its rewards to the few but is the dream of the multitudes. Excellence is available to all living things but is accepted by the few. ~ Dale Carnegie

We are all tempted to look over the garden fence into our neighbor’s garden to compare our gardens to theirs. Who has fewer weeds? Better flowers? Nicer shrubs? Taller trees?

But where do such comparisons lead?

They can and often do lead to us thinking or making negative comments about the neighbor’s garden and his or her gardening ability if we think in comparison that our own gardens are lacking. “If I had the kind of time she has…” “Well, if I spent that kind of money…” “His flowers are nice, but he seems to have no sense of color…”

Somehow, getting caught up in these types of criticisms and put downs is often how we justify our own level of success in the garden, whether we are truly successful or not.

But if we strive for excellence as a gardener, defined as reaching our own potential, then comparisons to others and their gardens are no longer necessary. We can measure our excellence by how close we came to our own potential.

And what is our potential?

Our potential as gardeners ebbs and flows depending on the time, resources, knowledge and money we have to invest in the garden at any given time. These can all be influenced by our own health, the demands of family, the demands of work and even the temperament of Mother Nature in a given season.

As our potential changes, so will our gardens, and so will our definition of excellence.

When we strive for excellence, we no longer need to make comparisons to see if our garden is better than our neighbor’s garden. We just need to look within ourselves and ask if our garden reflects back our full potential as a gardener at that point in time.

If we can do that, garden to the fullest potential that we have at a given time, then we can and should consider ourselves to be excellent gardeners.

And thank goodness there is enough space in the garden of life for everyone to be excellent.


Kathy said…
Oh, excellent post! Thank you!
Patsy Bell said…
A very thoughtful post from a very wise gardener. This was, really, truly, a delightful blog.
Amen, sister! It sounds like striving for excellence is the key to happiness, in and out of the garden.
wow. You spoke to my heart as a gardener who has limited time and limited space to be successful in many eyes.
Excellence can be found in so many forms - I was an excellent gardener today as I weeded my front yard in between phone calls and emails from work.
Turling said…
Right now, I'm just working on the "gardener" part. I'll worry about the adjective later!
I really like this post. This idea applies to so many other things like art, an area I'm more involved with. The whole idea of comparison is always an invitation to competition. And competition and comparison often get in the way of individual expression and creativity in art and gardens.
lotusleaf said…
A very thought-provoking post. I hope I'll be an excellent gardener!
Darla said…
I needed this today...thank you!
Gatsbys Gardens said…
Great post, we all need to realize what our potential is and also our abilities to carry out the dreams we have in our head.

Intersting thoughts. I had never thought of whether I was striving for excellence or success. I just gotta garden. I see little successes here and there. Excellence is trying to keep em alive and looking happy.
Jean Campbell said…
We should strive to be the best gardener that we are capable of being given the limitations of our environment. Once when I mentioned that my echinacea got ratty and had to be cut back late June, a woman from a climate where it is always cool in summer commented that HERS always bloomed beautifully all summer as if the shortcoming was mine, not attributable to my hot and humid climate.
Layanee said…
I think competition is inherent in humans but I have always felt that there should be no competition in gardening. Each garden reflects the knowledge, ability and artistry of the gardener's hand and we can all learn from those differences. Thoughtful post as always, Carol.
Dorothy Borders said…
Dale Carnegie was wise and so are you. Thank you for this. I resolve to strive fore excellence.
Susie said…
That IS true!! The grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence, right?
Pam/Digging said…
An excellently written and thoughtful post, Carol. I could see this appearing on the back page of Fine Gardening mag. I actually chose "excellent" when you posed the question because it implies a certain level of artistry that I hope to achieve one day.

More food for thought: Success can be relative too. When you set a goal, if you achieve it you are successful. So if you set a goal to plant and harvest peas, and you do, you are a successful gardener. If you set out to plant a butterfly garden that will attract lots of winged visitors, and you do, even if others might find your garden messy or weedy, you are successful. If you set a goal to have the best garden in the neighborhood, well, then you've got your work cut out for you, perhaps. But my point is that success can be self-determined too. It doesn't have to be determined by the opinions of others. And you can be much happier when you define success in this manner.
Gail said…
Loved this post Carol~I think comparing our gardens, our houses or ourselves to others is not ever going to lead to positive feelings. gail
Wonderful post! I think we all have those moments when we long for more sunshine, or more shade, or more rain, or more space, or fewer neighbors. But your post is a good reminder of the value of "making do." Of doing the best gardening you can do, in your own personal circumstances. Thanks again for the inspiration.
Cindy, MCOK said…
Well said, my friend. I will take those words to heart.
Oh to be excellent, it is quite a goal. I like the idea of measuring myself against my own potential instead of against others. We should all not covet each other's gardens or glory that matter. Great post.~~Dee
Garden Lily said…
That's an interesting way to look at it. I like that idea of achieving excellence in our own way.
What a thought-inspiring post. I've certainly learnt something today. As an added thought there is the famous quote from Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit."
So very true and thoughtful. Excellent!
Sister who does not garden said…
Great post! Can be applied to many areas of our lives...since not all of us are gardeners!
Commonweeder said…
This is a thoughtful post - and its a good thing Carnegie defined success and excellence because I would have chosen successul - the success in achieving my own vision.
Rose said…
An excellent post, Carol! We should all strive for excellence for ourselves, not anyone else. But I agree, not every year works out, and I think it's okay to be mediocre sometimes in the garden, too.
Ruth said…
This is a GREAT post! Thank you very much! :)
A nice thought provoking post. Thanks for the explanation of what these two options mean. Your words are inspiring.