Of Gardening and Investing Lessons

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” said Audrey Hepburn. I realized the truth in it over the past few months.

The wife has been venturing into gardening – a small beginner home garden – for the past few months, and as an observer, contributor and co-passenger, the ride has taught me a few things – about gardening of course, and also about how some of those lessons apply to the pet topic of this blog, investing. Here are the top 5 lessons:

A. Learn the rules, Experiment with what you can manage, and it starts working: Clearly there are a set of rules to learn to plant a garden, and it is important to learn them. Get good seeds, good soil and manure and water the plants are as basic as they can get. But the reality is that there are lots of experiments within this set of rules that are possible and can only be learned by doing. And that’s where your own decision on what type of plants, how many of them and how big a garden you can manage becomes important. Once you get through that and experiment with what you can manage within the overall realities of your life, it starts working. Very much like the rules of investing and how your own decision of what kind of investor you want to be will impact what works for you.

B. Plants grow slowly but there is a funny pleasure in it: You can learn the process, get the seeds and plant them. After that there is not much to do but to watch them grow. And plants grow slowly. Everyday we went to the balcony to watch if there are any sprouts, and for a while nothing happens. There is a unique kind of fun in that too, in watching the plants grow slowly, and unless one learns to enjoy that, you will feel it is way too much trouble. The fruits or the vegetables aren’t going to be seen soon, and unless one enjoys the process more than the outcome, patience will likely get the better of you. Very much like long term intelligent investing where as Graham said you buy something using your process, and hope something good will happen.

C. All types of plants and all seasons are important: Not all plants will grow with the same speed, nor will all of them grow in all seasons. There are seasons for planting, and there is a time for harvesting. Every single step in the growing process, every moment of those seasons must be respected. Nothing can be skipped. There are plants that will give vegetables every couple of weeks but then they run out after couple of harvests. And then there are plants that take a long time to bear its first fruit, but then will give you its fruit every season after that. Every type of plant and every season is important. Some plants and seasons are meant for producing great fruits. All others are meant for preparation. Very much like our own investing seasons and plants – where all types of assets and investments are important and bear fruit in different seasons.

smart-investment-garden-quote

D. The final result may not be perfect but who cares: Some plants died midway due to weeds, perhaps due to more or less water, perhaps due to reasons I don’t know. And some plants have grown beyond our wildest imagination. In some cases, all sown seeds sprouted to life, and in some, none came up. As a whole, the garden produced a good variety of vegetables, which though not perfect are good enough for me. Finally I realized that that’s what matters – the result will most likely not be perfect but it doesn’t matter really as long as it is good enough for you. It is difficult to over-engineer outputs in gardening, specially for beginners unless you reach a level of sophistication perhaps. Very much like investing results – it is difficult to predict the future, and with all the bull and bear markets over a lifetime, it is impossible for the result to be perfect. But as long as it meets your purpose, who cares?

E. You plant the seeds, provide the water and the soil, but someone else makes them grow: Now this is a philosophical one. I am sure there is a science to it which I don’t know yet. But despite the science to gardening, I am pretty sure everything is not being done only by the gardener. The gardener perhaps does the best possible to increase the probabilities of a fruitful result, but there are many factors that add up to create the result. You plant the seeds, lay the soil, water them and wait and watch with faith in tomorrow. And it is indeed a miracle that out of that sprouts a plant that not only springs to life and grows but has the ability to bear fruit. It is tough to predict which one will sprout to life, which will grow and which will bear fruit. Hence, leading to my hypothesis that like investing, you master the process to increase the odds, but perhaps someone else makes them grow.

It is no wonder that a learned man like George Bernard Shaw said that “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”

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