Viewpoint -- A Literal Plant Manager

Dec. 21, 2004
Irish flower garden offers manufacturing insight.

In my flower bed at the front of the house, I now have roses, pansies, lobelias, begonias, and nasturtiums. And, suddenly, I have no discernible weeds, though I am sure a few are hiding beneath the too-thin layer of mulch I laid down the other day. And I think I've licked the slugs that have been feasting on the poor pansies. My mother-in-law, if she happened by in the next few days, would surely remark on what a wonderful job I've done in bringing under control what was a weedy paradise just a few weeks ago. She'd gaze upon the newly planted begonias and lobelias, the rich brown layer of mulch, and the absence of dandelions and declare it wonderful. Not me. Instead, I know that greenfly will ravage the roses if I don't start spraying them. I know that other slugs -- in damp Ireland, they're everywhere -- will arrive to replace their fallen comrades and have at my pansies. I know that the nasturtiums, which were looking sickly when I put them in the ground, will need some fertilizer and a lot of loving care if they are to burst into bloom. And, looking at the context in which the flower bed exists, I know that the grass in my front lawn is slowly being taken over by clover, that it's too thin, that the dandelions lurking there will soon send seeds in the direction of the begonias and lobelias. Surveying what I accomplished after a full weekend of gardening, I suddenly understood what it was to be the manager of a factory that I had finally, after much struggle, turned around. That's what my flowerbed was, after all. Just last year, it was producing a few fine blossoms, but also an awful lot of waste that could, in time, jeopardize the entire operation. So I needed to turn that little flower factory around. There was a powerful sense of satisfaction as I worked the kinks out of my back, restored the circulation to my lower extremities, and wiped the sweat from my brow. But that satisfaction was tempered by the knowledge that all my struggles could come undone if I don't keep at it, weeding, pruning, spraying, raking, mulching. And that's just the maintenance. For the garden to thrive, I need a total quality management approach, a zero-defects goal. I need to foster a culture of continuous improvement. Until this past weekend, those were all just words to me. As a journalist, I talk to and write about a lot of people, but the only thing I really do is talk and write. The only thing I make is a lot of words. But a backbreaking weekend of gardening has given me a feeling of solidarity with all you manufacturers out there, you people who actually make things. It's made me appreciate your struggles, the obstacles you've overcome, the hard work that remains and will remain if your factories are to thrive. I'm enjoying that sense of solidarity, but I won't do it for long. I have dandelions to attend to. Tom Mudd is IW's European Bureau Chief. He is based in Dublin.

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