How To Grow A Thriving Garden of Relationships


I have a special garden, and every person in my life grows inside of it.

As a novice gardener, I watered any seed that the wind carried in. When these seeds sprouted into plants, I discovered that each one is unique. Some are small and unassuming, some are loud and flamboyant, some are weathered and hardy. Each plant has a different look, different needs, and different gifts. 


Flowering plants fill up my garden with beautiful energy, colour, and fragrance. Some last a brief but memorable season, while others are a constant delightful presence. These plants bring me joy and inspiration through the diversity of their expression. 


Trees are the people whose roots reach down deep, knowing me most intimately. In their unwavering strength and support, they hold my earth together protectively and infuse it with enriching nutrients. They offer me refuge through storms, soothing shade, and delicious fruits when I need inspirational juice. A tree gives selflessly and is always there for me. 


Not all plants offer good things. Prickly plants bring noise and discomfort, and not much else. I remove them from my garden whenever possible.


Parasitic plants are the most unwelcome. They drain my garden of nutrients and water, and give little in return. The most dangerous ones can even poison, damaging my soil so others cannot grow. Because their strangling roots grasp so tightly, removing a parasitic plant is a painful and difficult process, but it’s usually worth it. Once gone, healing and healthy new growth can take place. 


While I have gotten better at identifying and removing the pricklies and parasites, I am also learning to have compassion towards them. They are often people who are facing the greatest life challenges and thus are donning the thickest protective armour. If they seek support, I offer it to them, but I prioritize my own wellbeing in the process. 

Typology Framework for Relationships (as told through anthropomorphized garden plants):

Table 1: Typology Framework for Relationships (as told through anthropomorphized garden plants)

Table 1: Typology Framework for Relationships (as told through anthropomorphized garden plants)

Cost = how much time and energy I need to spend to help the plant grow

Benefit = the goodness the plant brings into my garden

Shallow vs. deep roots = the amount of impact the plant has in my life

Not every plant can thrive in my garden. 

Some plants are exotic - designed for very different garden conditions. When they appear in my garden, I may have to build a special greenhouse and give them extra attention; however, when they are able to grow, they teach me new ways to experience life, expand my understanding of the world, and challenge my mental models.  


Some plants have surrounded themselves with too many layers of protective armour. Even if my garden conditions are perfect for them, they are not able to grow.


Sometimes, I may be the one with too many layers of protective armour, making it hard for plants to take root in my garden soil.


I believe that any plant can live well in any garden, but the costs and benefits must be weighed carefully by both gardener and plant. Spending too much water and fertilizer on one plant means that I won’t have enough for others. If a plant spends too much energy trying to adapt to my garden, it will lose its vibrancy. 

When it becomes too difficult and we must part ways, I am usually sad but grateful for all the gifts that a plant has brought me, even if it was a short stay.

My garden is ever-changing.

Some plants may leave, allowing space for new plants to grow. Some plants unexpectedly reappear after many years. Even for the plants that stay for a long time, their nature and needs evolve over the seasons. A small sprout may transform into a blooming rose; a great oak tree may require more care as time passes; a prickly plant may turn into a flowering plant.  

Some things I can control, most things I cannot. I am learning to accept these changes - savouring the experience, learnings, and beauty of every fleeting moment. 


Every person has a garden that is unique to them.

One person’s garden may be perfect for growing plentiful prairie wildflowers, another’s may be the happy home of a small forest of trees, and another’s may be a relaxing zen rock garden with no need for plants at all. The happiest and healthiest garden you can grow is the one that is most authentic to you.


It has taken many years of hard lessons and reflections, but I am finally figuring out what my most fulfilling garden looks like. With this clarity, I can better curate, cultivate, and appreciate the relationships in my life. I am happy to report that my garden is now thriving with positive, caring, inspirational, and wise people growing in it. I couldn’t be more grateful.


Questions to help you grow a thriving garden of relationships

  • Currently, what kinds of plants are growing in my garden (flowers, trees, pricklies, parasites)? What are they bringing into it? What am I giving to them?

  • What kind of garden is most authentic to me? How am I intentionally curating and cultivating it?

  • I am also a plant growing in other people’s gardens. Which gardens do I wish to grow in? What kind of plant do I wish to be?

How are you curating and cultivating healthy relationships in your life? Share in the comments below!

An aside:

There is a saying that my wise old Chinese teacher used to repeat: 时间就是生命. Time is life. 

I’ve been reflecting on how I am spending my time these days. A good amount has been on relationships - thinking about relationships, creating new relationships, nurturing relationships, healing relationships, ending relationships. 

I’m spending all this time on relationships - what’s really the purpose of having them?

For me, the connection with another being helps me experience life more expansively and colourfully, advances my own growth through inspiration and tension, and provides me with support in times of need. I also find deep fulfillment in providing these to others. 

Who are the people that I am spending my time on? What are they bringing into my life? 

Reflecting on these questions filled me with gratitude as I thought about the relationships bringing positive energy into my life. It also surfaced some sadness as I realized that there were some relationships that would never match the hopes that I had for them. Much of the negative energy I experience - frustration, disappointment, hurt - arise from this difference between reality and expectation. 

I also realized that I have the power to change my circumstances. I can choose to accept reality and adjust my expectations. I can make an effort to provide feedback so that the relationship can better meet my needs. I can also choose to redirect my time towards people who do bring me joy. This led me to thinking about how I’m tending to my “garden of relationships”, and writing this post about how to do it more intentionally.

LifeJessica FanComment