Tip-toeing through the tulips

David Taber

Gazette Photo by John Swan
Flowers adorn the front of the former Boy Scout building at Centre and the Arborway. The only problem is that they were apparently ripped out of a planter on South Street.

Stealthy flower burglars ranksack gardens

It is a perennial problem for local flower enthusiasts.

The growing season begins. Soil is cultivated. Flowers are planted, watered and weeded. Then the diligent gardener wakes up one morning to find his or her blossoms made off with by bandits.

This sad tale has repeated itself in various places in JP this season. The Gazette has heard tell of floral larcenies on Paul Gore Street, in the Pondside and Woodbourne neighborhoods, and even from public planters on South Street.

For the most part, these crimes remain unsolved, but at least one floral burglary was undone this summer thanks to the keen observational skills of local community members.

Volunteers with JP Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS) Clean Streets project in June planted canna lilies and red geraniums in ground level flowerpots in front of the South Street Mall. Workers at Fresh Hair salon agreed to tend to the flowers, and, for a few weeks, everything was going great.

Then a canna lily and a number of other flowers disappeared.

An unknown person or persons [possibly the culprit?] planted pink petunias in place of the stolen flowers.

Hope of reclaiming the stolen flora was all but lost when one day, passing by the former Boy Scouts of America (BSA) building on the corner of Centre Street and the Arborway, Clean Streets volunteer Sarah Freeman happened to glance at the flower box in front of the building.

“It was the same type of plants and the same number,” Freeman said.

John Judge, who purchased the BSA building last year and has been renovating it with the intention of leasing it as office space, said he has no idea how the South Street flowers ended up in his planter.

When he first noticed the flowers he said he was baffled because he had recently planted pacasandra, a leafy green holly-like ground cover plant, in the planter, he said.

By the time the prodigal plants were tracked down, the canna lily was in an especially sorry state for lack of water and TLC, said Linda Watson, who coordinates the Clean Streets program.

“I didn’t touch them at all because I felt they shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Judge said, “Whoever planted them there stole buckets of my nice groundcover.”

The canna lily, the only perennial in the bunch, was returned to its original home where it will receive the care it needs to thrive and, if all goes well, help beautify South Street for years to come.

Freeman and Watson both described the return of the canna lily to South Street as an anonymous act.

Watson said she hopes whoever originally transplanted the flowers will walk the straight and narrow path from here on in. “Whoever did it, I hope they join us and volunteer with or donate to Clean Streets. You don’t need to steal,” she said.

While this story had a happy, if convoluted, ending, most tales of flower theft do not resolve so neatly. Incidents are rarely reported to the police, because in the spectrum of crimes, even most of the victims do not even consider them that significant.

The police “are not going to stop crime fighting, investigating drug dealing and murder on account of some plants,” Freeman said.

E-13 community service officer Carlos Lara said any call made to the station regarding a crime results in a police report and, unless the culprit is caught at the scene, the report is forwarded to a detective for follow-up. He said he had not heard of any cases of flower theft being solved by the police.

Lara also said neither he nor his colleagues in the community service office could recall flower theft being brought up at any police-community meetings.

In some cases, like that of a Woodbourne resident—who in mid-June had four large ceramic flower pots, along with the flowers and plants they contained, stolen from her front porch—the financial loss resulting from flower crimes can be significant.

The pots cost the Woodbourne resident, who asked to remain anonymous, $25 each. One of the plants stolen from her porch was an ivy plant she had been cultivating for 13 years, she said.

An E-18 community service officer advised the Woodbourne resident should file a report about the stolen property, but said it is unlikely it will be recovered.

“You get discouraged because you want your neighborhood to look nice,” she said, adding she will no longer plant anything visible from the street.

Some people choose not to plant anything at all. Kathy Holland of Paul Gore Street said after having flowers stolen a few years back, she just lets her front yard grow wild.

She is pleased with the results, she said. “There are a lot of pretty wildflowers and people tend to just weed whack them.”

Editors note: Been a victim of floral theft this season? Tell the Gazette 524-2626 x227.

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