Ask Dr. Bleedingheart

Gardener Resents Shakedown

Bleeding_heart_1 (Editor’s Note: Why run our own questions when our nation’s syndicated columnists are already getting all the good ones?  This ran in Dear Abby; our own Dr. Bleedingheart responds.)

Dear Dr. Bleedingheart,

I spend lots of time and money on my flower garden. While I’m outside working, it is not unusual for complete strangers to stop and ask me for plants and bulbs. Believe it or not, three women were even brazen enough to ring my doorbell.

It is one thing to share flowers with friends and family — but with people I don’t even know? Please give me a clever response to these nervy individuals. –

–APPALLED IN WINCHESTER, VA

Dear Appalled,

How about this:  Laugh as if you know they’re joking, and say, "Ah yes, if only (NAME OF LOCAL NURSERY) considered plants and bulbs to be free for the taking, too!"

Or this:  "You want some of these plants? Absolutely!  Let’s see what else I’ve got around here that you might like.  A flower pot? A deck chair? Do you like these flagstones? And after we’re done here, we’ll head over to your house and take a look at your stuff.  I bet you’ve got something around there  I’d like to have!"

And finally, "Actually, I love giving away plants, as long as you don’t mind digging them up yourself.  Really? You don’t mind?  OK, here’s a shovel.  Help yourself to all the dandelion, bindweed, and Himalayan blackberry you can dig up."

Posted by on September 27, 2006 at 6:35 am, in the category Ask Dr. Bleedingheart.
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14 Responses to “Gardener Resents Shakedown”

  1. Michele Owens says:

    I don’t know–I think asking for plants is perfectly legimate, even from strangers. Nature is bountiful. Many of them reproduce themselves, so sharing is part of the pleasure. What better way to make a friend than to give up a bit of something that is not working in your scheme or is growing so vigorously that it hardly matters?

    And the people who actually ASK clearly have some manners. I’m always tempted to head out with a trovel after evening falls and just grab an unmissable piece of what I want.

    For example, there is a house down the street that has the most fantastic bearded irises–a velvety navy blue, plus they seem to bloom happily in dappled shade. I never see anybody around to ask for a piece. Who would miss it if I took a little bit? I haven’t acted on my criminal intentions yet, but I may well do it.

    Anyway, if anybody wants needs some dahlias or irises, please stop by my yard.

  2. Kathy Jentz says:

    I looked up Abby’s response, I think she was pretty dead on:

    >DEAR APPALLED: You should count yourself lucky that these “nervy individuals” are asking for the plants and not pinching them. Sadly, I have heard from other frustrated horticulturalists whose gardens have been denuded by people who simply helped themselves.

    As to what to say to people who ring your bell asking for plants, rather than being put off, why not give them the name and address of the nursery where you buy your own? That’s what I’d do — unless I offered them a cutting so they could root their own plants.<

    I’d go a further step and offer seeds instead. I’d MUCH rather have someone ask me in person.

    As the victim of 3 garden thefts this past week, I know there is no such thing as an “an unmissable piece” from my garden. Often I’m letting something grow and multiply with an eye on it to divide and give to a specific person — not to a petty thief who decides for themselves what I’ll likely ‘not miss’ or ‘not notice.’

  3. Jane says:

    Christopher Lloyd used to have to tie notices around seedheads that he wanted to keep for seed as he found that visitors would take them home otherwise.
    I have very few visitors to my garden and I know practically all of them to some extent yet I still find that bits of my plants go missing. Hubby says that it serves me right for leaving a collection of trowels lying around the beds inviting people to dig up a chunk or two. They must put the ill gotten plants in their handbags as I never see anyone leaving with a muddy clump!
    The latest ‘theft’ was an angelica gigas seedhead that I was saving – it disappeared when not QUITE ripe – so it will have been worthless.
    I would MUCH MUCH rather be asked and will happily give people something if I can spare it – if they offer to pay I direct them to my charity tin.

  4. Chuck B. says:

    This is an important topic for me, and I want your opinion. Actually, I want your permission, but first let me ask for your opinion.

    We have a neighbor we don’t have a civil relationship with–he parked his car in our driveway (for several hours) and we had the car towed. We didn’t know whose car it was at the time, but we’ve since learned. He obviously knows exactly who had him towed.

    He has an indescribably overgrown backyard that I suspect he inherited from a landlord or previous owner, I’m not sure which. Anyway, his plants are slowly pushing my fence down, his wisteria tries to grow on my house and I have to clip it off several times every summer, his yard harbors mice and raccoons, and, worst of all, he has several enormous planters of standing water in the backyard breeding mosquitos (too big and heavy for me to tip over).

    I discovered this when I trespassed into his yard last spring to look for standing water and drop in mosquito dunks suspecting they’d be there. I was right. At that time, I also learned his yard is so overgrown, it totally obscures his backdoor! He couldn’t even get in to his backyard if he tried…the only in is through a small corner in my yard!

    Anyhoo, getting to the point, here’s the sitch: The second time I hopped the fence this summer to drop mosquito dunks, I saw the most gorgeous, fragrant, double yellow rose growing there in an obvious state of total neglect. Too late in the year to take cuttings. I know it would be illegal to take cuttings from that rose, but my question is, would it be morally wrong? Because that’s what I’m most concerned with as a gardener. Different rules apply!

    I have all kinds of grounds to report this guy to the City, but I’m not sure how that would shake out, and I don’t want to add another reason for him to feel hostility toward us. He seems strange and creepy, and I’m lazy and mostly indifferent to others. I am content with the current state of cold silence. Someday the fence will be dealt with, but probably not for a number of years. In the meantime, I want that rose. On a scale of 1 to 10 where one is like spraying herbicides in a national park, and 10 is giving all my money to the Garden Conservancy, where will I be when I snip cuttings of that rose?

  5. Amy Stewart says:

    Woo-hoo! OK, y’all keep talking, and I’m gonna make a poll about Chuck’s predicament.

  6. firefly says:

    Sounds like you’ve got your mind made up to do it, but I still want to point out that the only real way to stay neutral is to keep out of the yard entirely. You’re interacting with the guy simply by putting the mosquito dunks in the planters. If you take the rose, then part of that yard is in your yard.Is that really what you want?

    Maybe that sounds kooky — maybe not. I can see myself in your shoes, but I’d just go out and buy a rose of my own and then chortle to myself when it got twice as big as the neighbor’s neglected rose.

  7. Garden theft can be a serious problem here in NYC. Before we moved to our new neighborhood last year, our next-door neighbors had their Japanese maple stolen from their front yard. When I started putting container plants on our front steps, nearly every neighbor told me their own story.

    I’ve known gardeners in NYC who laced their shrubs with barbed wire. Any attempt at a quick snatch ‘n’ grab would leave the criminal gashed and bleeding. “Guerilla gardening,” indeed … It slows them down, at least, which is enough to deter the casual theft.

    So far, we’ve been lucky, and nothing’s been stolen (at least nothing I’ve missed!). I’ve met many neighbors while working in the front garden. I’m glad to swap plants with them. If I have something in abundance – Hemerocallis, Hosta, and Iris, for example – I’m happy to give some away. (They would have become compost anyway.) But at the right time, and on my schedule: when I’m dividing and moving perennials in the Spring or Fall, or seeds are ripe (Cleome seeds, anyone?). People are welcome to come back at that time of year. Not on the clock of some clueless bozo with poor impulse control.

  8. Daniel says:

    Your issues are legal and ethical, and not the same for the mosquito dunks vs. the rose.

    Legally, you are trespassing in either case, and with the rose issue, you are commiting theft. Very very minor theft, but still theft.

    Ethically, it seems to me that you are doing a public service on the mosquito issue. You are taking some risk on yourself, to reduce a public health (west nile virus) risk; unclear if ‘the authorities’ would act (and this is very very minor guerrilla activity).

    The mosquito issue and the rose issue are not ethically linked. However, it seems obvious that your neighbor’s yard is neglected and a few trimmings from a neglected shrub amount to a rather trivial item. Like removing them from an abandoned lot.

    I would not like it if you came into my garden and did the same thing, but to all appearances, I obviously DO care about my garden. And I would be happy, even flattered, to share cuttings with a stranger (would you like some gorgeous apricot-colored, fragrant rose cuttings?).

    Just don’t get caught. It’s not that important.

    By the way, it’s probably NOT too late in the year to start rose cuttings. I have started roses from dormant cuttings lots of times. I used trimmings from mid winter when most of the leaves were fallen. Remove remaining leaves. Cutting should be about 6 inches to 1 foot long, with several nodes (4 to 6 is ideal). Dip the bottom in rooting hormone. (I have also done this without the hormone) Insert the cuttings into moist soil in a protected location, about 3/4 of their length. Keep them reasonably moist, not soggy, not totally dry. My success rate with this completely unscientific method is about 75% and I have some beautiful rose bushes using this method.

    If you have discovered a rose that thrives on neglect, without sprays, fertilizers, or any other significant care, you might be doing the world a service by sharing cuttings from the resultant shrub….. turning some minor larceny into a gift to mankind?

    Just dont get caught.

  9. Nancy says:

    The poll shows that the largest group voted for “Why not? He’s clearly not a gardener…” So what they are saying is that it’s not okay to take from someone you respect – a gardener; but it’s okay to take from someone if you look down on them – a non-gardener who doesn’t maintain his yard. By this logic, I could find a reason to look down on any of you for some reason and be free to take what I wanted from your garden. And then I could apply the last bit of logic in that poll choice – he probably won’t miss it anyway. No doubt the thieves who stole my lawnmower applied similar logic – she can afford to buy another one, I need it more than she does, whatever. That you don’t like or respect someone does not get you out of asking politely for a cutting. If you surmise before you ask that the person would not give it to you (as the thieves no doubt surmised that I would not give them my lawnmower), that is no justification for taking a cutting. Neither is wanting it a justification. No doubt all thieves want what they take.

  10. Katherine says:

    Hum. I have always (at least in MN) believed that gardeners are people who love others to admire their gardens, and would would eat dirt before they would give someone else a rude remark after they asked. What a wonderful thing it is to share a way to make our planet beautiful. How great to meet other people who want to do the same. Invite those who ring the doorbell into your garden ; pour them some sweet tea and laugh and talk and give them a clipping for goodness sake. Most REAL gardeners are not stingy or is it a regional, geographical thing????

  11. Katherine says:

    Hum. I have always (at least in MN) believed that gardeners are people who love others to admire their gardens, and would would eat dirt before they would give someone else a rude remark after they asked. What a wonderful thing it is to share a way to make our planet beautiful. How great to meet other people who want to do the same. Invite those who ring the doorbell into your garden ; pour them some sweet tea and laugh and talk and give them a clipping for goodness sake. Most REAL gardeners are not stingy or is it a regional, geographical thing????

  12. TM in MA says:

    Hi,
    Chuck – I’m all for a bit of neighborly sharing, but you might not want to this time.

    But I would like Dr. Bleedingharts option.

    I have a neighbor who is a wonderful garderner. His taste is NOT mine and my husbnads but his garden and yard are nice and well tended. Ours is not. It’s no eyesore, infact my husband has a degree in landscape but becase we are sailors and both work full time he designed a yard that can easily be allowed to go a bit wild and still look nice.

    our problem is this neighbor (who’s land does not touch ours, he is across the street) has decided to put in a bed between our house and the house next to us. We have told him we don’t want it, and the other neighbor told him we didn’t want it.. but he’s ordered the dirt, had it dumped in our yard, adn started to kill the grass. I got both my husband and the other home owner and we went to his door and asked him nicely (stongly but nicely) that we did not want this and would he please return it to grass. My husband even offered to help him. Other dealings we’ve had with this neighbor he decided that the curb needed a flower bed, and poof before anyone could say anything there it was, again, not on his yard. Then he buys plants or mulch for the bed, and expects us to pay or weed or what have you. That made us crazy but we let it go. It did look nice, but when he started this new project, we knew what we were in for and are trying to nip it in the bud.
    My main question is, if he continues does anyone have any advise, I don’t want to turn this into a legal issue or neighborhood blowout (all agree with us). If he just leaves it can we use the dirt and plants in other parts of our yard?
    Please help,
    sincerly frustrated and trying to keep the peace while not being a doormatt in MA.
    thanks

  13. Cool blog. Great post!

  14. nick in colorado says:

    I’m all for taking the cutting, but my husband disagrees, saying trespassing is trespassing. He also said that the mosquito stuff is wrong too…. And that calling the right people would help with that. But like I said, I disagree.
    Though He’s already shown you how creepy he is, by parking in your driveway, so for me that would be reason enough not to take the cutting. And if he caught you I’m sure he’d be more than happy to turn you in…possibly. I don’t know him, or how well you can sneak around.
    I say take the cutting. It’s only a cutting for goodness sakes. But just don’t get caught. I don’t agree with taking seeds or plants (or lawnmowers…wt heck!) from any garden usually. But in this case he has clearly shown that he doesn’t care about his backyard (or west nile virus). Another thing to consider before taking it also is the likelyhood of him recognizing that same rose now in your yard. What would you say? And it might bring you less satisfaction than you originally thought it would to see that rose in your yard, when you remember how you took it later on. Just playing advocate for both sides.
    Although I just find it so hard to see the moral issue when this yard is akin to an abandoned lot.
    You could always try waiting ’til he moves… as well. Geez.
    I wouldn’t be upset if someone wanted a cutting or seeds from my house. It would be nice if someone asked instead of taking. I’d actually be thankful for that. They are really giving you a compliment by asking, and might want a gardener friend.
    What kind of person doesn’t oblige if they can? If you can’t then just say so. You shouldn’t need balls to tell the truth. If the plant is under trademark or whatever that’s called then and only then would I say that I couldn’t give them some– and to try the local stores. Or if I was saving that last seedhead for a friend who wants to swap. Even then, I should be able to spare a few if the seedhead produces many seeds…. Or we could make plans for next year, etc.

    That person is missing opportunities to bring some happiness into someone else’s life. And maybe make some friends. But maybe that stingy person has more friends than they already need–yeah right.

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