How Problems Can Be Opportunities in a Garden

Learn how to turn obstacles to your advantage.

vegetable garden boxes with lettuces growing in them

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Gardening problems can sometimes seem insurmountable. It is easy to become disheartened when things do not go according to plan or when we are faced with problematic circumstances. 

But in permaculture, we remember that what seems like problems at first can often be viewed as opportunities. By changing our mindset about these things, we can achieve undreamed-of results. 

Looking at the positives as well as the negatives of a situation helps us to build a more realistic picture of our gardens. And it can help us to develop constructive strategies, rather than becoming mired in frustration or feeling helpless. Seeing any issues in a more positive light can help us become better gardeners and ensure that we reach better results.

Here are a few examples of how problems can be opportunities in your garden.

Problems With Lack of Space

If you only have a very small garden, lack of space can seem like a frustrating issue. If, however, we look at this from a different angle, we can see opportunity even in the smallest of spaces. 

Vertical gardening and other small-space garden solutions make it possible to grow far more than you might imagine.

What is more, having only a small garden means that you will have more time and attention to bestow on every inch of the space. Unlike those with larger areas to manage, you will likely find it easier to manage and maintain the space over time. 

With only a small growing area, you can really zero in on your efforts in home growing, and there is an opportunity to focus more closely on how to increase yield. 

Often, for a given area, yield in a small garden can be greater than yield in a larger one, simply because the gardener has more impact and can stay on top of things more easily. 

Problems With Environmental Conditions

Other common problems center around issues with the climate, microclimate, soil, or other environmental conditions. But any "problem" site can be rife with opportunity.

For example, flooding or waterlogged sites have the potential to become hugely biodiverse systems with water reservoirs, ponds, or wetlands. 

Sites with a shortage of water have the potential to be turned into amazing xeriscaped schemes. (This refers to landscape design that requires little or no irrigation, commonly used in arid regions.) By utilizing native drought-tolerant plants, diverse food-producing and biodiverse environments can be created.

A shaded site may make growing many common edibles a challenge. But there are edibles that can be grown in an area which receives far less sun. 

Steeply sloping sites may experience issues with runoff and erosion. But such sites offer immense potential to catch and store water, or to take advantage of the slope to construct earth-sheltered greenhouses, etc.

Adverse environmental conditions might encourage gardeners to think outside the box and to choose plants appropriate to place and conditions. This can mean that a well-planned garden in a "difficult" spot may include many interesting ornamental plants and less well-known edible or useful plants. You may well create a truly unique and inspiring garden.

There is an opportunity to learn more about wild edibles in your bioregion, and to explore some fascinating permaculture solutions for your site. 

Problems With Weeds

Gardeners also encounter problems with weeds. But it is important to remember that many weeds are simply native or naturalized plants that are well-adapted to the growing conditions where you live.

Native weeds can seem like a problem when they begin to take over; however, many native weeds can be extremely beneficial—to you, to wildlife, and to the garden ecosystem as a whole.

Often weeds can deliver edible yields, or be used in other ways—for example, as fiber plants, or to make mulches, composts, or liquid plant feeds. When we think of "harvesting rather than weeding," keeping on top of weeds can seem far less of a chore.

Even problematic nonnative invasive plants can sometimes provide us with yields as we work on their eradication. The most serious weed problem can be viewed as an opportunity when you look at what these plants can provide.

These are just a few examples of how problems can become opportunities in a garden. In fact, by looking at any problem in a different light, you will almost always be able to see the opportunities it brings.