Here is permaculture principle 4 in a nutshell, summed up in one of Bill Mollison's most popular quotes:
If you see yourself confronted with a perceived problem, why not try and look at the situation from a different angle? Is there any way to use it to your advantage?
A common example for this permaculture principle, one that you will find cited in many permaculture books, is that low lying spot at the bottom end of your garden. You know, the spot that's always muddy, where the water just won't drain away and you just can't get the lawn grass to grow...
You have the perfect location for a pond, or a bog garden with swamp plants. Thought about growing watercress, water chestnuts, or kangkong (a tropical water spinach)? How about iris, primulas and lilies? Many flowers are suited to boggy spots. The ducks you are getting for eggs and to clean up your snails will love it, too.
Got an ugly wall? If it gets sunlight it will help you to grow frost sensitive species outside their range. The wall stores the heat from the sun over night and keeps your lemon or avocado tree warm. You can hide the ugliness behind some heat loving trellised fruit.
So the builders left a pile of rubble behind? Any chance of turning it into a rock garden? Throw on some soil, collect a few better looking rocks to place on top of the rubble, and look for plants that like to grow on rocks. Now you have a feature instead.
When the builders cleared the area for my house, they left behind a huge pile of dead shrubs, trees, and grass mixed with soil. I don't own any machinery to remove it and didn't want to hire any. I just asked them to push it out of the way a bit, towards the other side of what would become the driveway.
Then I planted a circle of coconut palms around it. (I live in a warm climate, you can use species suited to your conditions). I left an opening wide enough to back a trailer into it, and invited all neighbours to dump their "garden refuse" there, instead of burning it or taking it to the rubbish tip. (Yes, that's what they usually do with it.) One massive compost pile...
I continue to use this area for bulky prunings, whole trees or branches and similar stuff. Saves me cutting it up or shredding it.
The palms are thriving and I never have to mulch or fertilize them. I later interplanted them with suitable shrubs and flowers and more. (Heliconias, turmeric, papayas, sweet potato, guavas...)
You can't see the pile anymore. Everything is thriving and I never did any work other than stick cuttings or tubers in the ground and throw a few seeds around...
The inside is now totally sheltered from any winds and is always very humid because of the thick vegetation. I'm going to grow rambutans there. That's a tree that thinks my climate is not tropical enough. Well, inside my coconut circle it is! Everybody is happy.
The permaculture principle of turning problems into solutions goes hand in hand with one of the main ideas at the core of permaculture: working with nature rather than against it.
There is no point in trying to create a lush tropical garden if you live in a desert climate. There are stunning succulents to add aesthetic appeal, and many useful plants that get by with very little water, like dragon fruit and pineapple, to name two delicious examples.
Don't waste your money, time and energy by trying to force something that nature never intended to happen. Look creatively at what you already have. Try to see the benefits and look at ways to use the situation to your advantage.
What I like best about this permaculture principle is that it applies to the rest of our life as well. Next time you face a problem remember this principle and search for the good in the situation. It's always there, all it takes is the willingness to see it.
Index of all Permaculture Principles