Adrian Howard
October 22, 2021

The popularity of gardening was a feature of lockdown, as millions invested time in planting seeds for future results. Gardening offers a number of lessons for retirement planning, with many of the same principles guiding both gardeners and investors to success. Both gardening and investing require specialist knowledge and skills – getting advice from the experts is essential if efforts are to be rewarded.

It’s perhaps no surprise that millions turned to gardening when the pandemic lockdowns put many of our usual activities out of reach. One survey found that gardening was the second most popular activity in lockdown, after watching TV and ahead of cooking, reading and exercising (1).

While the benefits of those endeavours are not always immediately obvious, all keen gardeners know that the fruits of their labour will usually be rewarded over the long run. It was a timely reminder, as well, that when we have an idea of how we want things to be in the future, it pays to put in the groundwork now.

This is just one example of the many ways in which the lessons of gardening can stand us in good stead when it comes to saving for retirement.

Sowing the seeds

There are numerous parallels between gardening and investing for the long term. But it’s not just a nice idea – any investor with experience of gardening could benefit from applying many of the same principles to their retirement plans, not least when conditions change and patience is required.

Like investing, successful gardening starts with understanding what you want. You need an idea of the kinds of plants or vegetables you’d like in order to know which seeds are required. Similarly, if you want to plant something that will produce results in a matter of weeks, you’ll need to identify the appropriate options.

Sharon Bonfield, Propositions Manager at St. James's Place Wealth Management, points out that it’s all about planning and knowing what you want. “If you’d like radishes in your salad all year round, you have to keep planting them every few weeks,” she says. “Similarly, when you’re saving for a rainy day, you need to keep replenishing your pot if you dip into it.”

But you’d need to take a different approach if you wanted an asparagus crop, she adds. “It takes months for the seeds to germinate and three or four years to get the asparagus spears. You have to look after it all that time without getting anything back, but when it starts producing, it can do so for decades.”

You also have to be sure that the plants are in the right environment. There’s no point in growing tomatoes in the shade, as they need sunshine. And it’s the same with investments: if you want your money to grow over the long term, it needs to be in an environment that provides the potential to produce the returns that you want. For example, a retirement fund that depends entirely on cash is highly unlikely to provide the pension pot you want later in life.

Paying the right level of attention

The unavoidable truth about both gardens and retirement plans is that they need attention. You might get away with putting something in and then leaving it for a few years. It’s not a good idea, however, nor is it a recipe for peace of mind.

“You can spend hours with these plants because you’re planning, looking after them and working out what they need,” says Bonfield. “It’s like putting your money away and hoping it’ll grow. It’s important that it’s in the right place, and if it’s not working, you might need to adapt as you go along.”

But when you’re keeping an eye on it and making sure it’s growing as you’d expect, you can rest easy knowing that you’re on course to reap the rewards eventually.

That said, both gardens and investments will invariably be affected over time by the unpredictability of conditions. Storms may come and go, often leaving damage in their wake. Gardeners know that this is all part of the experience, and that they may have to adapt and make changes over time.

The same goes for long-term investing. “It can be useful for investors to think about what happens when gardens are affected by bad conditions and weather,” Bonfield points out. “You’re not going to dig it all up and start again; instead, you’ll manage it, make changes and stay patient.”

This is also the case when it comes to the ups and downs of investment markets. While the short-term impact of a downturn can be uncomfortable, simply giving up could be very costly. In contrast, staying the course and making any necessary alterations gives you a chance to benefit from any eventual improvement in conditions.

Plotting the path

If gardening isn’t your area of expertise, it can be hard to know where to start, what you need, when to take action and how to make it work. “You wouldn’t build a vegetable patch without knowing what kind of soil you require, what you should plant and how you should manage it,” says Bonfield. “Unless you’ve done it before, you’ll go online, read about it and get advice.”

Again, there are parallels with retirement planning. Unless you’re experienced and confident when it comes to long-term investing, you’ll need guidance and advice, not just to get you started but to keep things on course over time.

“You wouldn't throw something in the garden and hope for the best, so why would you do that with your savings and investments? You want to know that your money is working hard and that it’s likely to get the results you want,” says Bonfield. “So if you take advice from specialists, you’re more likely to achieve success.”

The value of an investment with St. James's Place will be directly linked to the performance of the funds selected and may fall as well as rise. You may get back less than the amount invested.

1 Garden centres set for a rosy return as gardening is the second most popular retail activity, GlobalData press release, 14 May 2020 (figures based on GlobalData’s monthly survey of 2,000 nationally representative UK consumers, conducted in early May 2020)