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In the Garden

The flower thief returns


YOU MAY RECALL THAT A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO I swore I would not be writing about the issue of flower theft again. Three columns were more than enough, I decided. I begged you not to write to me with any more of your flower theft stories.Photo of garden plaque: "Get Out of My Garden & Leave My Plants Alone!"

But did you listen? Nooooo. Instead, I have received some of the best flower theft stories to date, along with some important information that I simply have to pass on.

First, a story my doctor told me last time I was in her exam room. (You see what life is like for me since this started?) A patient of hers was sitting in her breakfast nook on Easter morning, looking out at her garden while she ate breakfast. A car pulled into her driveway and a woman got out with a shovel and dug up some of her irises, then drove off with them.

You've got that right, folks. A premeditated theft on Easter morning. Right there in the front yard. Didn't even park the car on the street and tiptoe into the garden. Nope, she pulled right on into the driveway.

Astonishing. But that's not all.

An alert reader tipped me off to a tale of flower thieves thwarted in the act. It seems that Golden Gate Park and some of the other parks in San Francisco had been beset by flower thieves. Becky Ballinger, San Francisco Parks and Recreation spokesperson, told me the story. "We were having problems with people stealing flowers, especially hydrangeas and roses. We thought they might be ending up at the wholesale flower mart, so we marked the flowers on the stem, just under the bloom, with a black marker. After that, it was easy enough to identify our flowers when they turned up at the flower mart."

I asked her if the thieves were apprehended and put behind bars.

"Well," she said, "That's not really our jurisdiction. We let the buyers know what was going on, and I do know that the people who supplied the flowers could not come up with a plausible explanation about where they got them.

"The best part of the whole experience was that we got some media coverage, and once word got out that we were marking our flowers, they didn't get stolen again. So it was a good prevention strategy."

I told her that I'd heard that some people use glow-in-the-dark paint, so that the markings would only show up under a black light. "Interesting," she said. "We haven't tried that. Maybe we should look into it."

Now, before you all write in and ask where you can get your very own glow-in-the-dark, anti-theft flower paint, let me assure you that I've looked into this and here's what I've found out: If you do a Google search for "fluorescent paint" or "ultraviolet paint," you'll come up with plenty of sources for the stuff. It's used by theater companies to mark the stage, and it's also used by -- well, anyone who has a black light and an artistic side. Halloween shops also carry glow-in-the-dark face paint, hairspray, and lipstick, so you might consider stocking up this fall. I also learned that craft stores sell glow-in-the-dark paints.

In the name of journalism, I bought a little bottle of the stuff and painted some on the stems of my own hydrangea. The plant has suffered no ill effects so far, but frankly, a black marker was easier to use and probably just as effective. I can't promise that these methods will ever help you recuperate your stolen flowers, but if it makes you feel better to go out there and mark them, be my guest.

I have saved the best news for last. Eureka craftsperson Kathleen Anderson was so moved by the plight of the victims of flower theft that she added two new plaques to her "Earthstones" collection. You may have seen her plaques around town: They are gray with black lettering, and they have sayings like "If you believe in fairies, clap your hands," "Carpe Diem," and "When the world wearies and ceases to satisfy, there's always the garden." In that spirit, she created a plaque that reads, "Garden Pilfering by Invitation Only."

Charming, isn't it? Well, it turns out that's not the only garden plaque she created. Inspired by the spirit of warmth and generosity that she sensed from my previous columns on the subject of flower theft, she created a second plaque that reads, "Get Out of My Garden and Leave My Plants Alone."

Finally, someone who understands my philosophy about gardening. It was all I could do not to order a dozen of them and hang one in every corner of the yard. She tells me that the plaques have been selling well, and that "Get Out of My Garden" outsells "Garden Pilfering" two to one. (If you feel you must have one of these plaques, Kathleen will be selling them on the Arcata plaza on July 4, or you can reach her at 443-5196. The plaques sell for $25 or $35 depending on the size.)

I wish I could say that this is my final report on flower theft, but I know better. The subject is just too tempting, and besides, the thefts continue. Just a couple weeks ago, someone ripped a 5-foot tall foxglove out of my garden, roots and all, and left a trail of pink blossoms along the sidewalk. (They were headed west. Did anybody see them?) And this morning, I walked outside and found 10 decapitated daisies strewn on the sidewalk. Ah, the senselessness of it all. They are as destructive as aphids, these flower thieves, and more difficult to squash.


garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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