A Positive Twist on Garden Problems

How to Learn from Garden Frustrations

by Sandy Swegel

Gardening guru Elliot Coleman came to talk at the Denver Botanic Gardens last night. One message that he repeated consistently is that he doesn’t focus on problems but he does get excited to find solutions. One’s first thought might be, “Well he hasn’t seen my garden problems, then.” But as we asked questions about our problems, it was clear he was not someone burdened by problems in the garden.

One refreshing way to think more positively about the “opportunities for solutions” our garden gives us is how Elliot thinks about pests. He says, “Pests aren’t problems, they are indicators.”

In his greenhouse, for example, if he gets an aphid outbreak in January, he asks himself, “Why do I have aphids? What are they an indication of? What are they showing me about the health of my plants or soil.” In his cold greenhouse in January, there was often a Nitrogen buildup in the soil. He remedied that by starting irrigation even though the plants weren’t dry but because he wanted to wash away some of the nitrogen. And his aphid problem began to clear up.

For many of us who focus on getting rid of the problem…the pest, we don’t come to the solution that would have resolved the problem and we just have to keep getting rid of the pest.

So this year as you’re closing up your garden, or reflecting on the season, a list of problems is likely to come up in your mind. Re-phrase your approach and don’t think about the problems…ask your self what the problems are trying to indicate to you. Next time I see an aphid, I’m going to stop and ask, “What are you trying to tell me?”



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