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Green Acre #96: Plant Theft

Cheerful pink-and-white geraniums on display at Longwood Gardens, in Delaware. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.


I steal ideas . . . although I have been known to take a tiny pinch of a plant at a garden center—one that I know will easily root—and tuck it into a pocket. Most often I justify this by working up some umbrage over the price of the plant. How dare they, I say to myself, when all one does is stick this stem in water and in a week, maybe 10 days, it will take off and . . . really! 

It IS stealing, though, you know, I remind myself, even if it’s just the tiniest sprig—though it’s not as bad as heisting plants from neighbors’ yards. Minimalist sinning, I call it.

I once nearly got thrown out of England for picking flowers from a ramshackle garden. I was living in thoroughly unromantic Colchester for a month (don’t ask), in my early 20s, with Maureen and Peter (now there’s a story), and as usual Maureen and I were traipsing home a bit tipsy from the pub one night and began rummaging in this overgrown front yard for a clutch of daisies, when a female bobby—a bobbette?—collared us.

“Thieves,” she cried, or words to that effect.

When we babbled that the house appeared abandoned, our voices clearly exposed us as ugly Americans. The copper informed us that if we didn’t rap on the door of the elderly spinster who lived there and apologize first thing in the morning that we would be hastily exported or expeditiously expunged or somesuch.

Which we did, and the old lady forgave us, and all was well.

Wasn’t that dramatic? And wasn’t that the perfect way to handle a crime: We didn’t get shot, even once.

This is all neither here nor there, since now I confine myself (most of the time) to co-opting the notions of better gardeners.

I love scavenging thoughts from the U.S. Botanic GardenLongwood Gardens in Delaware, and the National Arboretum, and from just street walking. The Philadelphia Flower Show is always a favorite, though their plants are coaxed to bloom out of season, so you’ll see a riot of daffs among the roses, clearly unnatural, if a covetable performance.

Most lazily, plant catalogues are frequently inspirational. White Flower Farm, for instance, is a particular joy. It’s glossy, beautifully photographed and informative—if snortingly overpriced, in my considered opinion.

Why would one order from them, I ask you, when we’re surrounded by abundant nurseries where you can actually bend and sniff (and maybe pinch). I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s because they show plants in full, beautiful bloom, and you ooh and ahh and imagine them taking off for you, and then August comes and you’re scratching your head over a straggly dead mess.

I’m flipping through the spring edition of the catalogue now, purloining ideas for pots of this and that. Even this far on in my gardening life I make mistakes, so many mistakes. Maybe if, for once, I followed some direction . . . like not attempting zinnias under the cherry tree, as enticing as the mental picture is. I’ll coax them along, standing in the deep shade with a flashlight for an hour or two each morning, if necessary, and after a week I’ll prefer to go to the pool and that’s that.

White Flower Farm offers individual plants, but also collections, which you can buy, along with a pot, if you’re really lazy. For thieves like me, the notions are simply stimulating.

I’m taken with the Afternoon Tea collection, a froth of pink and purple, including dahlias, verbena and petunia. Five plants in all for $42.  The Butterfly Banquet is another pretty thing, five plants of verbena again and lantana and such, five for $49.

Plus pots that require 30 quarts of soil, and range in price from $47 to $89. Plus shipping, of course.

Tell me I can’t amass the same collections for $25 tops at some garden emporium this weekend. There are plenty of empty pots around here. I’ll steal the look, thank you.

Meanwhile, tomorrow my Prince and I are heading to Raleigh, North Carolina, for Passover and Easter with Baby and her Personal Prince Pete. The farmers market there is filled with so many mistakes just waiting to happen, like the white Bird of Paradise I bought last year that’s well on its way to 30 feet—I tend to impulse-buy and read the fine print after it’s too late.

Thank heavens it’s also cheap. I’ll let you know what trouble I’m in next week.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” gets in all sorts of garden trouble. That’s why we like reading her Green Acre column every Thursday.

2 thoughts on “Green Acre #96: Plant Theft

  1. Pat Byrne says:

    As far as I know White Flower Farm is one of the few places to get single perennial hollyhocks and yellow Hyperion dallies. Pricey, yes, but sort of special, too.

    1. Well….you’re right, they do have some rare and lovely stuff…but still. At these prices, and with my ability to kill anything? Thanks for reading and commenting Pat!

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