It’s that time of the year. My garden is in horrible shape, seemingly fatally wounded by winter’s wrath. While Portland gardens most always are fairly uninspiring and bleak in January, this year the garden seems to be in worse condition than usual.

The artichokes look dead.  Leaves of mush and slime, lying against dirt. Over half of the strawberry plants are brown, brittle, broken.  And the swiss chard which has wintered successfully for two years – with a little protection on a few nights each year – has disappeared.  Melted I guess. December’s ice and snow have really taken a toll.

January’s high winds have flattened the grasses, broken the thermometer, and tossed a bird feeder to the squirrels.

Daisies, and phlox stems which were left in their beds for visual interest, now look stranger than fiction, primed to topple and stifle any nearby growth.

The vine encrusted weather-vane frame is also a victim of the east winds. It now lies on the flagstones waiting for assistance: the roots not strong enough to withstand the gusts.

Now it’s the first of February, and I wonder if the garden can be saved, will be as beautiful as in years past. I know it will come back.

The signs of life and renewal are already there. Green shoots of crocus, daffodils and tulips have poked through grey and webbed leaf debris. The irises are at least 7 inches high.  The dandelions, almost as great a harbinger of spring as the fat robin, are planning to erupt with bright yellow any moment. Newly folded, tender leaves lie against thorny rose canes, ready to pop at the first sunny, 55 degree day, and the rose buds won’t be far behind.

It’s time again for weeding, and cutting back, trimming and pruning.  Some of the plants won’t come back and will need to be re-seeded.  That’s true every year.  Maybe there will be a few more casualties this season – that will give me a chance to plant something new, try a different variety. The garden won’t be the same, with the same beauty as before, but it never is.  Each year the garden is a new garden.

Perhaps you’ve already seen it? The similarity this garden has to the business of real estate?  There’s been ice and snow in the industry: the media reports daily on the frozen banking and loan industry.  If you only listen to those reports, you miss the full picture, just as if you only see the damaged artichoke. Under the layers of media reporting, there is something else. Buyers ARE obtaining loans, making offers, receiving acceptances and moving into their new homes.  Sellers ARE pricing appropriately, putting their properties into tip-top condition, getting offers, and moving on with their lives.

Trimming and pruning is not just a spring task.  I’ve examined where and how I spend my media dollars, taken time in evaluating leads and client lists.  Assessed how motivated sellers are, reminded buyers that we’ll only know we’ve reached the bottom when we look back at it.  And meditated on which networking events will provide the best seeds for repopulating the pipeline.

As in the garden, I spend time noticing growth where I see it. Sales are up in some of the national markets that were hard hit, and nationally, December’s existing-home sales were up 6.5 % over November. Houses are affordable. Sellers are flexible. Loans are available. My January this year was stronger than January of 2008.

It’s still true, people need and want to move, to sell and buy homes, to create their own gardens. Just as I see flowers in the earth, under fallen leaves and know they do come back; I see buyers and sellers, and under the uncertainty the pent-up demand I know is there. I see their hope, their desire.

The market blooms each season, differently than last season’s. Each one is new, just as each year the garden is new.

Alexsandra Stewart  describes herself as “an artist, traveler, dreamer, real estate broker, reader, and gardener in no priority order.” She returned to her hometown of Portland three years ago after a career as a diversity and organizational-development consultant, helping businesses and nonprofit organizations weather the process of change. Learn more about Stewart and her work at  her site on the real estate blog


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