Saturday, December 7, 2013

Theft (from Gardens)

High-level garden theft hit the headlines when firms such as Sotheby's in Billingshurst began to develop a specialist market in antique garden statuary, seats and urns. Victorian cast-iron twig and vine benches which had mouldered for years under dripping summer trees suddenly acquired astonishing value. I first wrote about this new phenomenon in the Nineties. Sadly, although it's no longer new, it's still with us. As always, the thieves manage to stay a step ahead of the increasingly sophisticated alarms and marking systems that owners are forced to employ to hang on to their cherubs and quietly mossed-over lions.
As I reported before, the National Trust, in whose gardens is a remarkable collection of antique urns, statues and furniture, has been the victim of some particularly damaging thefts. At Wallington in Northumberland, thieves were disturbed as they were trying to remove the fine lead statues which decorate the walled garden. The tenant of the portico house in the garden fortunately discovered the perpetrators when he returned home late at night.
Police put thefts from gardens in the same category as burglaries from houses, so you can't put an exact figure on how much is stolen from gardens. Latest Home Office figures suggest that five thousand gardens are targeted by thieves every week. Most commonly stolen are garden plants (nearly a quarter of those who suffer from garden theft lose trees and shrubs, sometimes whole hedges).
Tools are popular with thieves, but many gardeners now etch or paint a postcode on expensive items. That makes them much more difficult for thieves to sell on. But the stolen lawnmowers, strimmers, generators, garden tractors and power tools I wrote about originally are still favourite targets. Keep a record of the serial numbers; if your nicked chainsaw gets found, it's the easiest way to prove you are the rightful owner. Use gravel for your garden paths. The inevitable scrunch is as good as a shed alarm.
Stealing lawnmowers and strimmers can be seen as the outdoor equivalent of lifting televisions and DVD players from inside houses. Reprehensible, but comprehensible. What is more surreal is the way that an entire pond, together with fountain and fish, can disappear > in a night, as happened to a gardener near Crewe in Cheshire. But all those who love gardening wince more painfully at news of plants being stolen than they do when told of purloined lawnmowers or strimmers. As well as being animate, plants are personal, in a way that a ride-on mower can never be.
So it's particularly shocking when entire collections of rare plants are stolen. Some time ago, it happened at the botanic garden at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, where, over 17 years, the curator, Simon Goodenough, had built up a fine collection of pseudopanax, strange spiky plants originating in New Zealand.
There's a worrying increase, too, in the theft of dogs from gardens – running now at 135,000 a year. Top of the list are springer spaniels, border terriers, and boxers. Dog thieves have evidently got good taste. But it's a mystery how a dog thief can ever persuade a springer to go off in the right direction when their owners so rarely can.
Insurance companies, always quick to spot an opening, are now offering specialised garden insurance to home owners. Policies vary in their comprehensiveness. Some cover plants in conservatories and greenhouses, but not those growing outside. Some cover hedges but not individual shrubs and trees. Check your policy. Full cover for plants may be available. But for an additional premium of course. Some companies offer substantially reduced insurance premiums if a house and garden are not left unoccupied for long periods. Some home contents policies will only cover garden machinery if it is kept under lock and key.

(Reproduced from The Independent, 7th December - article by Anna Pavord)

Gardien Comment: An excellent article on the subject of garden theft. We set up Gardien to provide solutions to these very problems, see