One day last month, as she was preparing to make a cake from the Italian plums that had ripened in the tree growing in front of her Beacon Hill home, Hazel Singer discovered she was too late. Her tree had been picked clean, sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., she says.
Though she’d had tulips picked from her garden and lost the occasional plum or two to passersby, Singer says she’s never been robbed quite like she was that late-summer day. She’s not alone: A flurry of posts last month on the Beacon Hill neighborhood listserv (beaconhill.seattle.wa.us) reported numerous incidents of garden thefts. One resident wrote that a dwarf bamboo plant was ripped out of its tub “in my driveway,” and reported that “the trail of dirt trailed west…about a half block.” Another resident said the timers from her soaker hoses were stolen; another lost hanging pots.
Similarly, Julie Penezic, who lives in The Beacon, a condo building on the corner of Beacon Avenue South and South McClellan Street, says her flower planters, which were located at the building’s front entrance, were stolen. They were filled with lavender, marigold, and geraniums, among other flora. “What a bummer,” she tells the Weekly. “Maybe it’s dorky, but these things brought me a little bit of peace in my hectic life. It isn’t about the money. It’s just that every day I tended to them, to something that would repay me with a new bud, a new bloom, and bumblebees…I just hope whomever had to steal them is getting a little bit of peace from them too.”
In retrospect, Penezic says perhaps she should’ve been more cautious. She had a potted tree taken from the same location a few months ago. She hasn’t replaced the planters yet because she can’t afford to, but Penezic says she’s got an idea for a way to secure them better next time. It might involve cameras and chains, but Penezic says the details are classified—for security purposes.
While neither Penezic nor Singer called the cops, Seattle Police Department spokesman Mark Jamieson says officers would be happy to take a stolen-plant report. “I don’t think this is a huge epidemic across Seattle, but I’m sure that it happens and that we get the occasional call,” he says.
Garden theft may not be rampant, but it happens—and it’s not exclusive to Beacon Hill. Katie Pencke, demonstration garden coordinator for Seattle Tilth Association, which manages public teaching gardens in Wallingford and Mt. Baker, says they also had a plum tree stripped bare in Wallingford last month. “All of the plums were removed prematurely,” she says, “which was strange, because the fruit wasn’t even ripe yet.”
Pencke says theft in public gardens is an ongoing issue because there’s often confusion about whom the fruit and vegetables are grown for. (In Tilth’s case, the produce is grown for food banks, not free consumption by passersby.) Pencke says they try to mitigate the illicit picking by putting up signs.
Singer says she’s considering doing the same. “Maybe next year we’ll put a sign up that says, ‘Please knock on the door. We’re happy to share the plums.’ We just want to have some too.”