An astonishing percentage of Republicans still believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen, though that fever seems to be simmering down slowly. The truth or nothing but the truth. It’s complicated. Thou shalt not steal elections or seeds? The jury is out. I have collected (stolen?) seeds for nearly fifty years. Never copious amounts, and no targeted plant has ever been stripped clean of seeds, but I am splitting hairs. 

Do we turn a blind eye toward some crimes?

I pilfered seeds of the beautiful, gender-bending hermaphroditic gingko in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery in 2015. The seed’s pulp is notoriously foul smelling. Few, beyond deranged gardeners with clothespins on their noses, would collect seeds of a gingko. I left seeds for the next guy. I hope my one pokey-growing gingko tree, sourced from this heist, doesn’t get repossessed.

In 2016 farm workers were collecting feed buckets (copious amounts) of bur oak acorns, along Beargrass Creek in Louisville’s Olmsted-designed Seneca Park. The purpose: to fatten hogs.  (I can’t imagine fattening hogs was the Olmsted firm’s original design intent.) Fortunately, I had done a drive-by there the day before and gathered a paper sandwich bag full. I sowed the acorns in Salvisa. Squirrels, as always, were selfish but left a few acorns that grew into three buggy whips. The little bur oaks have not yet been grazed to the ground by rabbits or deer.

Last October four Asian students were innocently collecting Chinese chestnuts at Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was scouting. I didn’t horn in but returned the next day, and the chestnuts were gone. It was painful to imagine chestnuts roasting on someone else’s fire. As far as I know, there were no fire-and-brimstone repercussions for the students. They were young and looked so happy.

It takes a spy to know a spy

Does my seed-hustle compare with Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief—A True Story of Beauty and Obsession? I am not a poacher out to make a buck. The beauty of plants is embedded in my soul, but my plant obsession leaves me flummoxed. I never went overboard with baseball cards. Why plants?

Keep in mind: Crimes of obsession may be recorded on doorbell cameras or CCTV. Rose and I recently watched Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan spy thriller on Amazon Prime. Cameras revealed tell-tale clues of no-good Russians every five minutes.

Seedy scoundrels are all around you. I am not spilling beans, but I know the type. Do you? They could be your next-door neighbors—the ones with the beautiful pollinator garden. (Did anyone watch The Americans, about a Russian spy couple embedded in suburban northern Virginia with their two children?)

Imagine Roger Stone, renowned political trickster, wearing camo gear and night vision glasses in a garden. Stone, a clotheshorse and self-described “agent provocateur” must know how easy it is to get tripped up by an exposed beech tree root after dark.

Seed culprits prefer daytime derring-do. Fishing vests and baggy trousers with lots of pockets and zippers are de rigueur in gardening spy craft, but let’s be honest. Fishing apparel in a garden looks as odd as a fop with a top hat, leaving the courthouse after convictions on seven Federal charges.

Roger Stone’s sentence was commuted in 2020. My fate remains unknown.

I have scruples

My first choice is to ask permission. Gardeners are generous with their plant divisions, cuttings and seeds.

What if the owner’s not around?

The five-fingered discount might apply, though not for plants. I try not to trespass, but I might pinch a few seeds from the property boundary, unless there is an unchained, snarling dog in the garden.

Don’t put me in the same boat with pickpockets, grifters, car jackers or orchid thieves. Even if you think my compulsion has led me to a life of petty crime, chances are I will not end up as one of America’s Most Wanted.

Cave Hill Cemetery won’t come after me for collecting a few gingko seeds. Some of my people are buried there.

Let the punishment fit the crime

Garden banishment? Possibly.

Shame? Yes.

Is it worth the risk?

Another growing season is around the corner.

I am not quite ready to seek absolution.

There is something exuberant about pocketing a few seeds.

Roger Stone knows how I feel.

Well, no he doesn’t.