The 15-pace rule revisited

Leafcutter bee
Credit: Marcello Consolo
Leafcutter bee
  • Leafcutter bee
  • Hosta adorned with a spider’s web
  • Close-up view of a spider’s web after the rain
  • Rosebush used by leafcutters
  • Yarrow, a natural beauty aid on a lawn
The 15-pace rule revisited

The 15-pace rule was conceived in 2018 by Larry Hodgson, the Laidback Gardener. This is a gardening philosophy that encourages intervention only when necessary, even in cases of infestation. It’s a question simply of stepping back 15 paces to assess the situation. If, at that distance, you can no longer see the damage, then there’s probably no point in intervening.

I’ll make a couple of small changes to that rule and venture to improve it by introducing the concept of nature tax in order to take biodiversity into account.

Less work, more biodiversity

For the Laidback Gardener, intervening unnecessarily was a waste of both time and resources. We understand that our interventions in a garden (to protect a plant) may harm the life that surrounds it, especially if we decide in favor of pesticide application or systematic removal. But the damage you’ve noticed is probably traces left by a form of life that’s part of biodiversity.

Now, come 15 paces forward

Here’s where I’d like to introduce a small change. After you’ve stepped back 15 paces and decided not to intervene, get up close again and observe carefully. Do a little investigation to discover the cause of the damage. Once you’ve found the guilty party, your opinion might change.

Two examples to illustrate the idea

The almost perfect round holes on your rosebush leaves are the work of leafcutting bees. What happens is, the female swaths her egg in a dose of nectar and pollen as a nest for her offspring. From far off the flowering remains spectacular, but up close, those cut-out circles testify to the presence of that native insect.

When you take 15 paces backwards, you no longer see the ants that patrol the floral buds on peonies, which will bloom in a few days. When you approach and focus on the phenomenon, you discover that the ants are licking the nectar that escapes from the floral buds and are protecting the plant in exchange.

There are numerous other useful visitors just waiting to be known, tolerated and appreciated. Think of most wasps and spiders – which are generally harmless and help control other insects – or even millipedes, which recycle plants.

The concept of nature tax

If we’re eager to make more room for nature in our communities, we’ll have to agree to share them. That sharing implies that certain organisms benefit from our green spaces as places to live and find food. Sometimes that can be beneficial, sometimes not. If we’re more accepting of imperfection by cultivating tolerance, nature will also benefit more. That’s what I call nature tax, a levy by the inhabitants of our garden allowing them to ensure their survival.

Obviously, certain pests are more harmful than others and can result in serious damage. Without suggesting that you close your eyes to these nuisances, I invite you to diversify your garden as much as possible. That way, when you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, the risk of a major loss is that much smaller.

Cultivate a diversified environment

By offering a diversified living environment to insects and other arthropods, you increase the odds of them being useful to you.

Take 15 paces back, and if the problem requires no intervention, then leave it be. Next, get closer and try to understand the interrelationships at work. The culprit is possibly not harmful, or better yet, a predator is possibly already at work.

In any case, your garden is contributing to supporting biodiversity for so many reasons. Tolerating a few imperfections can be easier to do when you understand that you’ve simply paid a nature tax. When we learn to recognize the roommates in our garden, it’s possible to enjoy them. This is the crucial step in protecting them.

Discover gardening tips and other horticultural advices
Subscribe to the My Garden newsletter

Share this page

Follow us!

Subscribe to receive by email:
Add new comment
Anonymous's picture