top of page
  • Writer's pictureThrive Inc.

Gardening with Robin Kelson

We have a very special guest on the podcast this week, and she has actually been on the show before for what was our most downloaded episode! We’re chatting again with Robin Kelson, but this time about all things gardening and relationships.

Robin is a master gardener, and the owner and founder of The Good Seed Company, an heirloom seed company dedicated to re-establishing the community practice of selecting, saving, and sharing seeds for common use. When COVID hit, Robin took us through each of the necessary steps to help us create a thriving garden, and it has been such an enriching process for us.

Join us this week as we discuss the importance of solid foundations in gardening and how this applies to business. Nature is an extraordinary teacher, and a garden has a lot to say about how to develop relationships. Learn how to use this fantastic resource in this week’s episode!

If you’d like us to speak at your organization about conflict, stress, team-building, or leadership, work with your team virtually, or coach you or leaders on your team, reach out to us!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Learn More:

  • The strongest foundation you can provide for a garden.

  • Some practical tips to start a garden.

  • How to create a thriving garden and how this relates to business.

  • The importance of supporting your local community.

  • How gardening is similar to business.

  • The first thing to plant in a garden.

  • How Robin's work supports communities.


Full Transcript:

Susan: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I am Susan.

CrisMarie: And I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships both in person and virtually.

CrisMarie: On this podcast we’ll be sharing tips, tools about how to make your team, your relationship and even you work more effectively. You can find us at, that’s or follow us on LinkedIn at Thrive Inc. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Well, welcome. I’m CrisMarie Campbell.

Susan: And I’m Susan Clarke.

CrisMarie: And today we have a very special guest, Robin Kelson who’s been on our podcast before. And actually her podcast, The Resiliency Podcast was the most downloaded show. So you might want to check that one out. But today we’re going to be talking about gardens and relationships.

Susan: And also you may also have seen some of you may have seen that we did a little video around gardening just recently. That was also quite well received. So it seemed like an easy thing to bring her in to talk today and try to bring some of that out even further into the conversation that we got started then.

CrisMarie: And Robin is the owner and starter of the Good Seed Company which is an heirloom savings seed company. Did I say that right, Robin?

Robin Kelson: Pretty close, good job.

CrisMarie: And people have referred to her as our garden mentor because last – well, when Covid hit, Susan and I had never had a garden. And we have our very dear friend who is this – a master gardener and in the natural way. And we said, “Robin, we want to have a garden.” And she took us through each step. And we had a very thriving garden. We are the envy of a lot of gardeners.

Susan: And one of the coolest things about it for me was you would really pull us back from having to be garden perfectionairs and not that I’ve really done anything perfectionately, but I might think I was going at it well. And you would sort of like, “No.”

CrisMarie: It’s good enough.

Susan: Good enough, and apparently that was really helpful because we did have some really healthy soil and I don’t think it was, yeah.

CrisMarie: Well, and we want to just say, Robin, I mean because people listening to this podcast you listeners probably want to know, well, what are Robin’s secrets, if I’m starting a garden. Can you just frame up some of what the tools that you helped us start our garden? I know we’re in a different place in year two.

Susan: Before you go there because I do want to make sure. I want the gardeners to be happy here. And I want you to know that as we’re doing this conversation, part of why we’re doing it, we actually think this is a metaphor for pretty much starting anything in many ways. Nature can teach us a lot and a garden has a lot to say about how to develop relationships, which you business owners that think it’s all about money and bottom line, there is information for you in here.

CrisMarie: Well, and I think actually the relationships and the fruit of the garden is really – would be the metaphor even to the bottom line and harmony and relationships. So yes, it’s about relationships and it’s about gardens. Okay, so back to you Robin.

Robin Kelson: Okay. So I’m going to start talking and then you can pull out from it what you think relates to the business world. But what we did is I started you off with a strong solid foundation. And the strongest foundation you can start with a garden is to provide good strong microbially rich live soil. Because it turns out that it’s the microbes in the soil that are the real farmers, really our job is simply to create a space for them to thrive and then get out of the way. That’s really the best thing we could ever do.

So with you guys, what we did was we developed and started with really good quality soil.

Susan: You said I could interrupt you as we went, just because I think something you’re saying here is really important in that really the soil is the farmers. And we’ve done a lot of things as a human species to not really be too kind to our soil, interrupt that soil.

CrisMarie: Interrupt that process. People always want to get fertilizer and stuff, and why is that a problem for the little microbes?

Robin Kelson: Right. So the modern man, I’m pretty sure our ancestors, we’ve been around for a couple of hundred thousand years. And we’ve been eating for all that time so we know what we’re doing at that level. But we didn’t impose our thought process on it until pretty recently. And so if you listen to my Resiliency talk what I say is the youngest part of us is our prefrontal cortex, that’s our executive brain that figures, [inaudible], all that, does all the logical thinking and it’s very creative, and it’s super intelligent. And I’m not dissing it at all.

But it tends to be pretty linear and shortsighted and so it tends to think it knows best. The reality is, is that plants have been growing and soil’s been developing for about somewhere in the hundreds of millions of years. That is way more elaborate and dialed in than our thinking is. So we started to mess with it. And the problem is, is the more you turn the soil and the more you add stuff to it the more you disrupt the community of microbes that have over literally hundreds of millions of years developed a relationship with the roots of growing plants so that they are a symbiotic community.

And now we’ve gotten rid of half of that community which is all the microbes in our modern day agriculture. And that’s why we keep needing to apply fertilizer, but we’re not producing the nutrients in the plants that way. So it turns out our science has finally gotten to the point where we can really understand the microbes in the soil and the more we’re discovering that the more we’re realizing we need to think more creatively and more broadly about the relationships. And discovering that apparently they have all this dialed in, we don’t actually have to do anything. So does that answer your question?

CrisMarie: Yes, that was great, Robin.

Susan: It does and I really, you know, there’s just so much to that, of course in my own world in this time of Covid I can’t help but think about, you know, you said the science is finally cut up to deal with things. And here we are facing this virus that’s spreading everywhere. But there’s some really interesting things about virus that relate to how it started, where it moved. I don’t know that we need to go down this road.

But the reason that I think it’s important is because it’s like there is the science that’s actually right now, may be very helpful for us because it became a pandemic, getting a vaccine out there. There’s also looking at why are these variants coming in from places where we have really destroyed ecosystems and viruses need to find the next parasite, so it passes on. There’s something there that we disrupted a lot that makes it…

CrisMarie: Like the virus looking for a new home.

Susan: Yeah, I don’t know. I think there’s some truth to that.

CrisMarie: Robin, do you have anything that you want to add to that?

Robin Kelson: So let me say the following. As old as the bacteria are and everything else in our planet is, viruses are older. So they’ve been around here since pretty much the beginning of what we call biological life which is to say that they are the peak of resiliency. You’re never going to get rid of them. And the reality is, is that we actually need viruses. There are viruses in our body that are part of our system that keeps us alive.

So the reality is if you’re just looking through the lens of nature, if you don’t think about humans and the way we think, just look through the lens of nature, it is a fact that everything is connected, period. So it is an illusion to think that one can be disconnected. Now, when you put the human piece in, we try through our thinking and our belief systems and however we do it, we try to control connection. And you guys can take this to the business world.

Susan: You can take it to all sorts.

Robin Kelson: But what I’m telling you is that that’s just a story, like it or not, whatever, the data from nature which is our platform for understanding the definition of resiliency is we are all connected, period. There is no other. There is no separation, nothing. I’m happy to go through hours of stories to prove that to you.

CrisMarie: No. You don’t have to prove it, so what’s the implication? Because I think what you were saying is we in our prefrontal cortex think we can control this, we can make this better and make it happen, even the virus. And I think you were even saying, this was before on our video which you can also watch. But the microbes are on our skin?

Robin Kelson: Yeah. We have biomes all over, we have biomes in our gut and the thing that we don’t really think about as humans is that microbe biome which is made up of a whole series of microbes of different kinds and some viruses. They’re responsible for the digestion of the food, the extraction of the nutrients from our food that then get passed through the cell wall of our small intestines and into our blood streams to provide the nutrients that our body needs to grow and to thrive.

That same process is very similar to the process that plants use, it’s very similar to the process that every other animal on the planet uses to extract nutrients from the plant life that they ingest, it’s all the same. I don’t know if that was specifically your question. Then we have microbes on our eyelids. We have microbes on our skin. There are microbes in the memory glands.

We have a whole series of microbes in the vaginal tract, all of which that are part of protecting us from managing our relationship with the outside world in a way that supports the vitality of our bodies and supporting the babies that come through our vaginal canals be ready in the world. This is created over a millennia, it’s not just humans.

CrisMarie: I can see how our desire to be clean or to do things to our skin, or whatever, is really interrupting this natural ecosystem or many ecosystems that we have in our own bodies. It’s another way that we try to power over nature, which I think you would say nature always wins. Is that true?

Susan: Yeah, you did say that on our last podcast. And I’m all for what you’re talking about right now. And I also know that our neocortex as you said in and of itself is really not the problem. The desire to figure out how to solve something, do it. The problem is we sometimes discount other inherent natural relationships and abilities and what’s available to us and get caught up in our own kind of right track without incorporating that. And that’s when I think it really is a serious problem that we could invent.

I mean I remember when I was dealing with my cancers and my good friends Ben and Jock who are both doctors were like, “There’s a time for western medicine, go get [inaudible].”

CrisMarie: Go get their surgery.

Susan: Get the surgery. And then we’ll deal with the ecosystem inside of you to get you back connected so that, you know, because – and your doctors aren’t going to talk to you about that.

CrisMarie: And you’re talking about more the relationship?

Susan: Yeah, the holistic.

CrisMarie: No, the emotional component of what created your disconnection even inside of you and in your ecosystem as a part of dealing with cancer.

Susan: Well, that was part of it but also my connections out in the world, yeah, so you know.

CrisMarie: Some people don’t even have – we could do a podcast all on Susan and the, you know, no, I’m saying that. People don’t have that context around cancer, many people don’t. They think again, western medicine, do chemo, cut it out and you’re going to get rid of it. Versus looking at the internal relationships, and emotions, and what’s going on inside of me.

Susan: Yes, which back to, I want to bring this back to, that’s the whole point of you even talking to us about the garden. Don’t just go out there and think you’re going to manhandle nature and put your damn garden in there. Think about how nature works and give nature the benefit of it.

CrisMarie: And so just even for our listeners because I’m sure they’d even love some practical tips of how you started us. You started us with a good foundation and soil and I believe there were many layers on our soil. People call it a lasagna method, right? Tell me where I’m wrong.

Robin Kelson: No, that’s true. So the first thing I did is I actually didn’t separate you from the earth. We started with the ground that you had and we added to it. There used to be a way of thinking that one needed to put a barrier between the garden one was building and the ‘weeds’ or the ‘stuff we didn’t want’. And so people would put down what are called weed mats or plastic barriers or whatever. And all that does is put a barrier between you and life, your garden and life.

CrisMarie: You mean the microbes that’s the life?

Robin Kelson: Yeah. So what we did is – actually you already had a garden bed there but if you hadn’t we would have started with just the grass that was there. And what we did is we put down layers of – well, we did actually. You just had a lot of weeds in your garden bed.

CrisMarie: We never used that garden box but yeah.

Robin Kelson: Okay, I forgot. Anyhow, so we started with layers of cardboard that we wet down because that will actually smother the grass or the weeds. And then we put on top of that, leaves and other things that the microbes could digest. Microbes actually love the carbon that’s in the cardboard so that works out really well. And we basically created enough of a height over those weeds that those weeds finally died because they didn’t have access to light. But we didn’t put a barrier down so that the microbes could actually eat, not only the cardboard but also those dead weeds.

And as they digested it they were retraining those nutrients and creating soil. And on top of those leaves and that wet cardboard we also added some good quality soil. We have some really good resources here where we live in the Flathead and wherever anybody else is living around the world. If you take a little bit of time, you will find there are people in your community who are making quality microbe really rich soil, so just go find them [crosstalk].

And I gave you some of my worm castings and some live compost. And that was the foundation into which we planted your seeds. And the key to it was not only life but no barrier.

CrisMarie: Got it. A question Susan, I think.

Susan: I just want to ask, you said live compost.

CrisMarie: What is that? I don’t remember that. Tell us, remind us.

Robin Kelson: Okay. So when you make compost what you’re doing is you’re taking often food waste, it could also be garden waste, green plants, dry leaves, whatever. And you’re allowing them to be broken down by microbial life so that they return to what looks like soil. What you want is to find compost in your community that is biologically life, alive.

A lot of the stuff that’s sold in plastic bags in your gardening centers and your big-box stores that is called compost, it’s actually not biologically live. It’s basically that life has been killed. And yes, it was organic material but it’s not really – there’s no biology in it, [inaudible].

Susan: So I think based upon that, when you say go find good soil locally. And then live compost, the best way you would do that would be to find out, one, you could create some of it through garden waste. Or if you don’t have that, there are probably good…

CrisMarie: Local people that have that.

Susan: Organical I’d call them.

Robin Kelson: Any quality sized community will have biologically active compost.

CrisMarie: And also the worm casting, that’s like that magic gold. So that’s basically worm poop for those of you that don’t know, mixed with water, right?

Robin Kelson: So it’s just the worm poop itself.

Susan: So I think about one of the key takeaways for me as even I listen to this and building this foundation that you’re talking about. And this is going to be where I try to take it to the broader level of whether we’re talking about gardens or whether we’re talking about a business. It’s the same idea. You have to build it on a foundation. And if you don’t build your foundation within the community that you live in, from some sort of meaningful, live connection, it will be difficult and more challenging.

And there are a lot of resources and it takes a lot of relational work to make that important.

CrisMarie: I think when we work with executive teams a lot of times they think well, we can make this company do this. But they’re not living it themselves, whether it’s the values or even diversity and inclusion. We’ll implement these systems down there. But unless they’re living it, it’s like buying a bag of compost in a plastic bag. It’s not really alive and people – it’s not being modeled so it’s not transferable.

Robin Kelson: Yes, [inaudible]. Okay here’s another little story that you can think about. So let’s go back to those earthworms. Now here’s why that stuff is so incredibly valuable. So you have an earthworm, we all know what that looks like. And maybe we have this picture of them and their little teeth eating the banana peel, or the leaf, or whatever. But what makes that stuff so valuable when it passes through their gut into forming the poop that we love, is all the microbes in their gut that are digesting that material.

And there’s a relationship between those microbes and how they digest that material that they release and actually form new mineral molecular relationships so that the material that comes out is actually…

CrisMarie: Super microbes or something.

Robin Kelson: It’s super nutrients for the soil and the plants. It’s literally transformational. And it’s a relationship that happens between the microbes that are in the gut of that earthworm, which are part – they’re there because not only do they have an environment that’s good for them but they’re there because it’s of value to the earthworm. So it’s integral to the vitality of the earthworm but also that earthworm and those microbes together are creating a product that is integral to the vitality of the plant that it lives near.

Susan: I can so get that though how – okay, I keep trying to overlay this to the business model or to the family model or whatever you want to…

CrisMarie: Relationship garden.

Susan: Relationship garden, but you think about places where maybe it’s a small business maybe that is starting. And if they know how to really make those connections and bring in even the people from the community that really – and they put some attention into the health and wealth of those people they bring in, they’re kind of – not that I want to equate them to earthworms. But that the whole process that they are bringing in is going to enrich the foundation of that entire organization. And it may not look like that when you, you know.

CrisMarie: Yeah. Who would say an earthworm is a really important tool? But they’re mega important. The same thing with taking the time to really nurture and onboard, not just onboard, but really connect and help this person understand this new context that they’re in, in the business. And how much effort when you do that to go slow, to go fast later, you’re going to have so much better results.

Robin Kelson: Right, because now they’re agents for the vision of whatever the ultimate goal is.

CrisMarie: That doesn’t even have to be a small business, it’s a big business.

Susan: It could be a big corporate business too, it’s true. But I think of even big global businesses, if they’ve been paying more attention to not just their big global presence but their local presence, what is the relationships like where they’ve put these companies? And some companies do it and you see that they excel and some companies don’t. And you see there’s a lot of tension whenever they land somewhere because they’re disrupting the whole system that they come into.

CrisMarie: Yeah. Powering over, it’s that powering over, we know better, we’re going to change and wipe everything out and put this thing here, yeah, that’s the neocortex.

Susan: Yeah. I’m enjoying seeing my business world through the lens of a garden. Hopefully you are too out there. I don’t know.

CrisMarie: Now, I want to also – so that was year one and we did have really rich production. And we were bugging you, Robin – now, Montana is a little bit later in the season, our planting season. But we are like, “Okay, what do we need to do? Do we need to till the soil? What needs to happen?” And what you helped us do at the end of our garden season last year is put our garden to bed. And I’m sure many gardeners would know that, but why don’t you just tell our listeners whether they’re gardeners or not, what that means to put the garden to bed.

Robin Kelson: So basically what you’re doing is creating a home for the microbes for the year. I mean a lot of them are going to go senescent or quiescent, because it’s so cold. But we basically cut down your plants but we didn’t pull them up. So we left as many live roots and live plants as we could because that relationship between the plant and the soil microbes goes on for as long as you want.

CrisMarie: So the microbes are eating those roots?

Robin Kelson: Yeah, until the soil froze. And then we covered the bed, basically whatever plants we cut down we chopped them up and we just let all those plants, those cut up plant pieces sit on the soil. And we covered any ground, any bare space with leaves.

CrisMarie: One of the things you told me that it still struck me is we could put a whole banana peel on there but the microbes would be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s Mount Everest, I’m not going to eat that.” But if we chopped up like we did with our plants, we chopped them up, the microbes, “Those are smaller, I can handle that and I’ll go ahead and eat that.” So I just really – I think about that a lot.

Robin Kelson: [inaudible].

Susan: And think about that in terms of the business conversations. How many times does something get thrown out into here’s what has to happen, and it’s like the banana peel.

CrisMarie: For the microbes, yeah.

Susan: For some part of the organization versus this is a banana peel and we’re going to cut it up and it’s going to go through and be…

CrisMarie: And that’s what we do when we work with leadership teams is have them come up with three or six month goals, not annual goals because that’s like the banana peel, even five year goals. Oh my gosh, that’s a ton of banana peels, but giving people shorter hops that move them down the field to success, so we are very much like those microbes, small bites.

Robin Kelson: That’s right. That’s good. And basically what we did with the sort of the blanket of food and life that we would put down was we protected the soil’s surface and we protected the life in the soil. If you look around nature, nature tries to cover any bare ground as fast as she can. I mean just think about it just on your own time, and whenever there’s…

CrisMarie: Think about it on your own time.

Robin Kelson: And when there’s disturbed earth, whether caused by nature or humans, we do the very best – I mean nature does the very best she can to fill it as fast as possible. And that’s actually because – well, anyways as fast as possible. And that’s actually the value of what we call weeds. Those weeds are what are called pioneer plants. They come in and cover disturbed soil.

CrisMarie: And you’ve often said weeds are just a flower or something in the wrong place. Weeds can be, like dandelions are great for your health but we think they’re weeds, they’re bad, right?

Robin Kelson: Yeah. I mean, yeah, weeds is a prefrontal cortex word.

CrisMarie: We’ve got to get rid of the weeds.

Robin Kelson: Whatever, we go down the religious road. But who am I to say what plant doesn’t have value? If it’s here and it’s been around for as long as dandelions have been around, trust me, it has value on the planet. So I may not see it, that’s an opportunity for me to take if I want. But who am I to say, it is my job to eradicate it from this planet? So you can apply that where you want to take it.

Susan: Of course I’m going to jump on that one because it is, that is so, you know, we might be able to hear it better in relationship to weeds, and plants and gardens.

Robin Kelson: I’m just going to tell you just a little sidebar on dandelions. Dandelions and carrots have a long taproot. A carrot is a long triangular shape. That’s called a taproot, dandelions have a long taproot. What a long taproot does is it has the ability to drill down through pretty much any kind of soil, that’s why you see dandelions everywhere. And pull minerals, they’re called mineral accumulators. They can drill down and pull out minerals from really deep in the soil.

And those minerals then go up through the taproot and are available through their leaves. Now, a dandelion as we all know is one of the early plants that come up in the spring. So all those nutrients that are deep in the soil make it up into their leaves, those are food sources for any animal or human that eats it.

So that’s why dandelion greens are such a – they’re an incredible tonic. If you follow any kind of traditional Chinese medicine, any kind of traditional medicine, there are a bunch of greens that you eat in the spring that are tonics and detoxifiers as our bodies move into the spring out of the wintertime.

CrisMarie: So the dandelions have all those minerals that we need to help detoxify. So don’t spray around up on them folks, pull them out and eat them.

Susan: Or pull them out in their entirety and put them in your garden as compost, it could be another way.

CrisMarie: Could you compost them? Would you get more dandelions if you composted them though? I would be afraid of that.

Robin Kelson: Yeah. I hear what you’re saying. You want to be careful about seeds that you put into your compost.

Susan: Okay. Never mind, don’t do what I suggested. Find them the right neighborhood; you could take them into a different area. But why this is so important is again this is how easy it is in our own bias and belief system that our neocortex is so great. You can apply this to dandelions. You can apply it often to how different cultures have treated people. Let’s face it, indigenous people and I know in Canada for sure and I’m sure here, knew a lot more about plants and gardening, and their relationship to the earth than we did coming in.

CrisMarie: And moved them out of the way, you need to go to residential school. We need to teach you our ways. And again, that’s a prefrontal cortex kind of obliterating what was…

Susan: We made them like weeds. They are not weeds, and whenever you, you know, and that’s happened culturally.

CrisMarie: Well, even in the whole diversity and inclusion efforts that are happening now, I think the colonization of again, we’re going to power over. No, everybody needs to look like us, it’s like having the perfect lawn, all those sorts of things versus allowing the diversity in the garden to help and cross-pollinate even, different ideas, all sorts of different things.

Robin Kelson: So can I share a short story?

Susan: Yes.

Robin Kelson: So a couple of years ago, I don’t remember now, I don’t remember, a couple of years ago. I was in Colombia and I had an opportunity to go visit a native community there. There’s a population, they call themselves Kogi, the Kogi Indians. And they’re quite active and prominent in the northern part of the country of Colombia. And I had an opportunity to go and spend some time with them. They live in these little villages up in the mountains.

And I remember as I was walking into the village looking around saying, “I don’t see any gardens.” Because they were telling me about their gardens and I said, “I don’t see them.” And I felt like I’m just walking through a field here and there’s just houses, their homes kind of scattered through this field. And when I stopped, the person who was showing me around said, “Well, there’s a sweet potato plant and there’s this, and there’s that, and there’s the other.” And my eyes just – I didn’t know how to recognize these particular plants.

And I realized the bias and the lens through which I was looking was even my understanding of what a garden is, it’s all organized. And it’s got a barrier around it to separate it from the animals. We have this tradition that we’re pursuing in our modern culture that we call permaculture. Well, that’s actually how the rest of the world used to just live. The plants that you wanted you planted near where you lived. And they were just part of the environment.

CrisMarie: Yes, not in a square box in rows.

Robin Kelson: And it was quite humbling, I realized the limitations in my thinking and seeing.

CrisMarie: Yes, absolutely. Well, Susan I think you also wanted to relate this to the relationship garden of Ben and Jock, The Haven.

Susan: Well, these ideas, these were two of my mentors who have done a lot of work in the human development world.

CrisMarie: Humanistic psychology.

Susan: Yeah, various things like that. A lot of their philosophies developed and one of their books is called The Relationship Garden. And their whole idea was that we are very much, you kind of said the exact same words earlier, our desire to control and get things – our neocortex to kind of get control of the world, to figure it out and know how to do it.

CrisMarie: And be safe and power over.

Susan: And we are always applying that somewhere. And where we apply it the most is often in our relationship because that’s where we want the relationships, we want control. I mean thinking of business, if you’re the leader of a company you want your people to be aligned with you, do what you want them to do. And in a closer relationship you want that. And we’re always, always about control. And it’s very tricky to get out of control. And the way you get out of it is kind of owning up to what you’re doing. I’m starting that.

But going from kind of a power over to allowing the growth of each individual person and trusting that, and knowing that, and having the faith that we’re in this together. And when something goes wrong we tend to go to, you did this to me versus backing up and going, “I don’t know if I understand what you did. I don’t know if I even have a clue. You may have been up to something else. I didn’t like it. How can we talk about it?”

CrisMarie: So to move along on the vulnerability to be real, and reveal and not know.

Susan: Yeah. And I mean their concept was that there is enough space in the world and the garden for there to be different types of plants that can grow if there is a willingness, and not to try to change one plant to be like another. But to actually utilize the resources that are there and allow for that growth to occur instead of trying to control it. And I think that’s sort of the same thing that you’ve been talking about.

CrisMarie: Even with the microbes.

Susan: The microbes, but I also want to bring up the four sisters.

CrisMarie: Well, the three sisters.

Susan: Three sisters because that’s a great example of…

CrisMarie: Well, so these are three plants. I’ll let you talk about it but I just love that I know it now. Three plants that create kind of a symbiotic relationship in the garden, so I’ll stop and you can say it Robin, really what they are.

Robin Kelson: Okay. And by the way to the eye that’s been trained to think that gardening is linear, and organized, and English garden ish, it looks like chaos. It can look like chaos. That’s the coachy garden that I was exposed to as well. So the three sisters is a Native American combination of plants that all support one another. Some people call that a guild.

Susan: Isn’t than an interesting concept.

Robin Kelson: I don’t see it but you know.

CrisMarie: Say it again, Robin.

Robin Kelson: Some people in the permaculture tradition refer to that as a guild. But I don’t think that’s necessary. Anyhow it’s just blanking here, so…

CrisMarie: Corn. Corn.

Robin Kelson: You’ve got some kind of a bean which is a legume and you’ve got squash. And the relationship they provide for each other is the following. The corn provides a vertical stalk, a vertical height around which the beans which are vining can clamber onto and hold onto so they’ll grow up around the height of the strong stalk that is the corn. You could also throw in a fourth sister which is the sunflower which also provides a strong vertical stalk. The bean as a legume has a relationship with microbes in the soil.

That is one of the most effective and efficient ways to make biologically available nitrogen which is a key mineral, ingredient for plant production. So your bean plant is making nitrogen available to the plant roots in the ground while it’s also providing you with food in the form of the bean that you’re ultimately going to eat. The corn of course is making corn which you’re also going to eat. And then the third plant is squash, which of course makes a delicious fruit that you’re going to eat.

But the other thing that a squash does, it has these huge leaves which provide shade. So they provide a canopy over the soil’s surface that keeps moisture down at the soil surface, keeps the soil cool, keeps the soil surface moist. And helps protect the roots of all the plants that we were just talking about, the beans, the corn and the squash which all have shallow roots by the way. So they’re up near the surface, they can be hurt by too much heat and not enough water. And this canopy of the leaves of the squash protects them.

And so it helps support the whole endeavor thriving. So every plant has a role to play for itself and for the other members of their community. And then the humans who put these things together and tend them are the beneficiaries of the fruit that they produce.

CrisMarie: Wow. I could see, we did not grow our beans. We had the corn, sunflower and squash but our beans were up on a trellis. So you’re saying the beans would grow around, do they ever smother the sunflowers and the corn, no? Wow.

Susan: You see, they work well together.

CrisMarie: That’s cool.

Susan: Unlike us that gets into sometimes not working so well together. Not you and I, sometimes you and I but I’m just saying relationships.

CrisMarie: Humans. Human cortex.

Susan: Sometimes in our human relationships we get into some other sort of dynamics.

CrisMarie: Squeezing the life out of.

Susan: Or not recognizing the potential for being as collaborative and interconnected as we could be. So I’ll just leave it at that.

CrisMarie: Okay. Well, Robin, we’re going to move towards closing but anything that you want to say, like for us we were like, “We really want to hurry up and get out there and garden.” And you were, “What, I think I’m not going to.” You said something to us, I want you to go ahead and say it now to our listeners.

Robin Kelson: So I said that – I shared with you my favorite quote and I wish I knew, couldn’t remember who it is that said it. I read it somewhere years ago which is, “The first thing to plant in a garden is a chair”, which means really the best opportunity for each and every one of us is to sit in our garden and just be. And I think it does so many things on so many levels. One, it’s a way to slow down. Two, it’s a way to connect. And three, it’s a way to observe. Truly nature is an extraordinary teacher no matter where we start.

And your garden is such an incredible opportunity to provide those resources to you, to me, to each of us. Helping us to make sure our prefrontal cortex [inaudible] everything else and recognize it is a part of everything but not the end all, be all.

CrisMarie: Nor should it be the CEO. It makes a great implementation manager but not – I think our soul actually is more our CEO. Did you want to say anything that relate that to what we were talking about with businesses or people, the garden, the sit in the chair?

Susan: Well, I mean I think hopefully it’s fairly obvious but if it’s not I will give it to you because it kind of was really clear to me when you first said this to me. Is that right now with everything going on we so want to fix things. We so want to do things to make it better. I mean I do suggest you go get a vaccine. I do suggest you wear a mask. But short of that you may, with all the other sort of things because sometimes it’s good to go sit, and connect, and observe, and listen. And not just try to put your action on it and that’s the thing I have to do.

CrisMarie: Well, I was going to relate it – I was putting my action on it there, trying to relate it to diversity and inclusion like oh my gosh, I better learn all this stuff, which is good that we all want to learn. And really the biggest impact is to listen to somebody else who has had a different experience and be there.

Susan: A different experience and this is where sometimes, because I think some people who are now in – people of color are like, “Quit coming to me to talk to me about what you need to learn. I don’t want to have 50 white people asking me. You can learn.” Because there’s lots of ways to learn, we could actually learn about how we’re different from each other and that could be hugely helpful and learning how we might be different from another culture or how we might be different from somebody who has a different cultural background.

It’s a good place to start so yes, try to find people that are different than you and expand your garden.

CrisMarie: Your human garden.

Susan: Yes. So hopefully…

CrisMarie: Yes, this has been – we’ve loved, we adore you Robin and we will have you on our podcast any time. We think you’re brilliant. And one of the things that I think you have been brilliant at and you can add to this is helping local communities really learn how to grow and save seeds and create local food sources. So can you say how people can contact you if they want your help in their community and what you do?

Robin Kelson: Sure. And I will say that this is true no matter where you live. I happen to live in the Flathead Valley in the northwestern section of Montana. And I happen to have a small heirloom seed company where I live whose mission is to support a community reestablishing its own practice of selecting, saving and sharing seeds. And I promote through all my endeavors, communities having a connection to their local food sources because I believe that’s the best way to support our communities thriving moving forward.

But what I’m saying about me and my community is true no matter where you live. And nature, I said this to you guys as we started, nature actually works locally, and changes things locally. So if we take our cue from nature and work locally we can build resiliency in our communities and that’s the best way to support the community, for the planet and for our future as humans. So wherever you are, support your local food efforts, support your local resources for growing biologically live compost, starting your own gardens, buy seeds locally, all that stuff.

Susan: Yes, policy, legislature politics, local counts.

CrisMarie: And, Robin, if people would like support with you facilitating or educating their local community, are you available to do that outside of Northwest Montana?

Robin Kelson: Sure, yeah. You can reach me through, Good Seed Company is the name of my seed company. And that’s the easiest way to reach me and we can talk about Resiliency, we can talk about supporting you in your local community food efforts. And I also work with a statewide Montana organization called AERO. And we’re driving a statewide marketing and media hub campaign for local food at a statewide level through our program called Abundant Montana.

And I’d be happy to support anybody wanting to learn more how to do that in their community or how to connect to that from Montana.

CrisMarie: Can we put a link to that in the notes, do you have a link?

Robin Kelson: Yeah, so

Susan: And we will put all this in the notes because I mean we’re hoping that the sound comes out good. A couple of things you should know, Robin is sitting outside so there have been some nice little bird sounds, and so all natural. And I think that’s great. And if there is any disruptions we will make sure we have the links to this as well.

CrisMarie: Because I mean I would have never paid attention to this, Robin, even though I love and adore you and you have been doing this for years, you’re brilliant at it. But until Covid stopped us in our tracks and made me be more local because we were stuck in our house and it’s been such an enriching process in partnering with you on our garden and learning more about this and how important it is for all of us. And those are our dogs if you can hear them in the background.

Susan: I think they’re trying to communicate that they want water. The water bowl is empty so they flip it over to remind us that it’s due to be full.

Robin Kelson: Well, thanks for having me on. It’s a delight. I’ve so loved being able to share the gardening information with you guys real time in a way that you’ve been tangibly able to participate and benefit from it. It’s just great.

CrisMarie: We love it. Alright, thank you Robin.

Susan: Take care.

Robin Kelson: Okay.


Susan: Thank you for listening to the Beauty of Conflict podcast. We know conflict, stress and uncertainty can be hard to navigate.

CrisMarie: We want to support you becoming more resilient, able to speak up and have healthy relationships and business teams that thrive. Connect to us on LinkedIn at Thrive Inc. Learn how we can work with you, your team or your company at That’s

Susan: We hope you have peaceful, productive and beautiful day.

CrisMarie: Take care.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Download the eBook, How to Talk About Difficult Topics, today!

72 views0 comments


bottom of page