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About A Week: Thieves In The Garden

Thieves are finding rich pickings in English gardens, Peter Hinchliffe reports.

A week of warm weather roused Britain’s garden thieves from their winter hibernation.

Our nation of gardeners spends around 4 billion pounds ($8 billion) a year on plants and gardening tools.

A spokesman for the Horticultural Trade Association said that sales so far this year are showing a significant increase.

Light-fingered criminals are seizing the chance to raid garden huts for rich pickings. They are also digging up flowers, shrubs and trees then making off with them.

Hoe-owners are waking up to find their gardens have been robbed of their colourful glory.

"Sadly we are all now sitting targets for garden theft," says Janet Connor, managing director of insurance firm RIAS. "Yet people are not taking anywhere near enough precautions.’’

An estimated 27 million gardeners are advised to lock away their garden equipment and install security lighting.

Janet Connor warns that victims of garden crime are having to fork out an estimated 400 million pounds ($800 million) a year to replace stolen property.

According to a spokesman for Halifax, a major bank,
garden theft tripled between March and August last year.

"Homeowners can forget to pay as much attention to security outside the house as they do inside," Halifax Home Insurance's senior manager of underwriting, Vicky Emmott said.

"With many people realising how much value they can add to their property by improving their gardens, there are now rich pickings for thieves, and now is the time to take steps to avoid becoming the next victim."

As many as one in seven households are the victims of garden thefts.

At this time of year Britain echoes to the drone of lawn mowers. Backs and knees ache as weeding and planting goes on apace in millions of gardens.

Down the centuries the strenuous efforts required to keep gardens spick, span and colourful has produced many a wry quote.

“Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration.’’ Lou Erickson.

“What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.’’ Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871.

“Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.’’ Author Unknown.

And gardens arouse the profoundest feelings.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.’’

Dorothy Frances Gurney, "Garden Thoughts"

When not gardening themselves British folk settle down to watch gardening programmes, or go to see someone else’s garden.

A recent BBC series in which horticultural expert Monty Don toured the globe to visit 80 of the greatest gardens attracted huge audiences.

Don was quoted as saying that around the world plants play a key role in establishing national identity.

He thinks that because of Britain’s colonial past we underplay our indigenous plants. "In Chile, Brazil, South Africa, China and India I saw gardens designed to celebrate the local cultural heritage. The British don't do that because plant-collecting was a way in which we demonstrated our domination of other countries and displayed our new-found wealth."

His first objective following the world tour is to make his latest garden in Wales into a haven for native species. “I am planting oak, ash, hawthorn, yew, aspen and alder, as well as primroses, violets, roses. What I want is a garden that is less of a display and more integrated into the landscape…’’

There are thousands of professionally tended gardens, many of them surrounding fine country houses, which are open to visitors. The About Britain Web site lists some of them http://www.aboutbritain.com/GardensAllRegions.htm

The British landscape is dominated by the colour green. As someone once said, musing during an all-too-frequent rain shower, “Britain is very green, but so also is seaweed, and it also lives under water.’’

However, at this time of year, when the sun shines after long dark days, and flowers, bushes and trees blossom and bloom, then gardens fields and woodlands blaze with colour.

I must now confess that I am not one of the many millions of enthusiastic horticulturalists who are to be found in every quiet nook and corner of the British Isles.

From now until October I will weekly mow my lawns, which somehow seem to increase in size as the year progresses.

But my wife, Joyce, who today took the pictures which accompany this story, is the wielder of spade, fork and trowel in our family plot. The pictures of cultivated flowers were all taken in the garden which she laboriously tends.

I do love gardens though. I can wander through them or sit in them for hours and hours, happily enjoying the work of their creators.

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