‘A man once had a garden. He grew vegetables for a living and liked it well enough. His garden had high walls all around it so no one could look at his garden and see how he grew his vegetables but he never thought about the walls much, the walls had always been there and probably always would. So every day he worked in his garden and did the best he could. His produce sold okay, not great but it provided a living, and so he kept doing what he had always done before.
Then one day a salesman knocked at the gardener’s door. With a glib smile he showed the gardener what he said was ‘the future of gardening’. ‘Why bother with lots of tools when you only really need one and here it is!’ With a flourish he pulled a sheet off a huge gold coloured machine. ‘This is it, the Golden Machine. It will do everything that a walled garden needs, for walled gardens like yours are really special and so must have special machines. Look here are some endorsements’.
The salesman showed him some really impressive comments from other walled gardeners and so the gardener thought why not? When he asked the price he was shocked. ‘I know it’s a lot of money’, said the salesman ‘but that’s because it’s made from real gold and sold to only to the best walled gardens’. The gardener was finally swayed and parted with a whole year’s profits for the golden machine. And it worked okay, or at least better that what he’d had before, although he noticed that the taste of his vegetables were no better and he didn’t produce any more than he had before but he had a golden machine and this is what walled gardeners used.
Then one night a great wind blew around the garden walls and was so strong that it picked up the walls, stone by stone, and carried them away to the other side of the world. The man woke up and saw that the walls had gone and was at first distraught. However the garden itself had been untouched by the great wind so the man consoled himself with that thought. He sat in his wall-less garden pondering what he should do next but instead of looking at the walls, which was what he’d been used to seeing, his eyes saw other gardens, lots of gardens of all different types spread out across the countryside. He was curious and stepped over the place where the wall used to be and looked at the garden next door.
He was truly shocked. The next door garden was beautiful, well ordered and even a quick glance at the tomatoes and fruit trees growing there made him feel ashamed of, what he now knew to be, the very poor vegetables he was producing. A man came towards him with a big, friendly smile and held out his hand. The gardener shook it.
‘Hi I’m Jim’, the man said.
‘Hi I’m John’, the gardener said but he couldn’t help asking straight away, ‘How do you get a garden looking this great?’
Jim smiled. ‘Many years ago I had a wall around this garden but a great wind blew it away and at first I wasn’t happy. But then I started looking at other gardens, like you are now, and I noticed that they did things better and I asked how, as you are doing now, and they told me. I did what they said and it worked. The other gardeners used to come over and have a look and Joe, who owns the garden next to me was surprised at how good my cabbages were and once Joe had pointed it out they all asked me what I did to get such good cabbages and I told them as they’d been good enough to tell me how to improve my garden so much. Now we all talk to each other and there are no secrets as we can all see each others gardens as there are no walls. Also the garden gets much more sunlight and it allows seeds from other gardens to drift in on the wind and give me great new plants. Now you’ve seen my garden can I see yours?’
John thought it was only polite but he didn’t think that Jim, with such a lovely garden, could learn much from him. As they went around John’s garden Jim suggested ways that he could improve his vegetables. Then Jim saw the Golden Machine and laughed out loud.
‘Are they still selling those white elephants?’, Jim exclaimed. John was truly surprised as this was a state of the art Golden Machine.
‘What do you use?’, John asked and Jim explained that he used not just one tool but a myriad of specialist tools. One tool to cut back the hedges, another to prune the roses and yet another to dig up potatoes. Jim explained that the tools were very cheap,easy to use and did the job perfectly. As they were cheap he could afford to buy new and better tools as they became available. Indeed Jim picked up a tool and said that, for small fee, this company replaced the tool with a new tool every time it was improved.
John thought this over and concluded that Jim was right. He wondered how he could be so stupid as to think that one tool could do everything well.
John was shocked but proud that he had got something right. Jim asked him if he could call the other gardeners over. John soon had a crowd all extolling the size and quality of his carrots which made him very proud indeed. But a question was growing in John’s mind so he asked Jim, ‘If you all talk to each other and don’t keep your gardens behind walls how can you compete with other gardeners?’
Jim said, ‘Now that’s a great question.You see though we aren’t the only gardeners there are. There are still plenty of walled gardens and that’s who we really compete with. Over the other side of the hill there, it’s all walled gardens and the vegetables they produce are really terrible. So terrible that everyone from that side of the hill now comes over to this side of the hill to buy their vegetables but it’s not just the taste of the vegetables that keeps them coming back for more. They all care about the environment too and, because there are no walls, they can see for themselves that the methods we use to grow our vegetables are environmentally friendly, so not only do they great tasting vegetables but they can eat them with a clear conscience too’.
John was impressed and thought that the day the great wind took his walls away, which at first he thought was a disaster, might really have been one of the best days of his life’
You can read my explanation of the parable in Part 2.
(Thanks to Tom Jolliffe for the great photo available here)