Sheba and I stopped to admire and photograph this Zantedeschia outside an insurance office in town when the agent inside saw us and came out to say hi. We'd met her before, on a walk, so this was cool. I explained my presence as being because of the Zantedeschia, and she said something to the effect of, yeah, we used to have two pots this size, both with callas in them, but somebody stole one of them so now there's just this one.
Oh. Well it's a very nice wait a minute did you say somebody stole one?
Yup. The theory was that it may have been someone in town for a funeral (there's a funeral home right across the street from the insurance office), because it didn't seem plausible to her that someone who lived in town would do this. I mean, it's a small place: someone would know.
Well, maybe. But it wouldn't surprise me if it were someone in town.
This is not the first such story I've heard from around here. One of the people I worked with at the garden center sold daylilies and hostas (among, possibly, other things) from her home as a side business, and on multiple occasions in 2008, she came home to find plants missing. It was a specific weird number, too, every time, like she came home and found she had 31 fewer plants than before. Presumably whoever was taking them could only fit 31 in their car/pickup/whatever. It was really upsetting her. It kind of upset me to hear about it.
For readers who are commencing a knee-jerk reaction about how this happened because of whatever your particular theory about What's Wrong With the Kids of Today is (people today don't respect their elders; they think everything's a video game; it's all been downhill since the Supreme Court took prayer out of schools; schools don't teach the subjunctive mood anymore, etc.), catch that knee. This has been going on for generations. People suck now, because people used to suck in the olden days:
A Chicago Daily Tribune article from June 1876 bemoaned a crime wave at a city park: "Rare plants and flowers were ruthlessly dug up from the hot-beds and other places, and the old gardener grew greatly annoyed, and scarcely knew how to catch the thieves," the paper reported. Even after a police stakeout, 10 "splendid geraniums" went missing.(Source: Chicago Tribune)
In 1901, Hyde Park was up in arms over bandits who snipped blooms from bushes, and in 1909 six newly planted trees were illegally "wrenched from the soil" near Armour School. "People of the neighborhood are incensed over the latest depredation," the Daily Tribune reported.
Sadly, the more serious thefts are apparently usually the work of people who resell them to unscrupulous (I don't want to say "shady") landscapers, or at least that's the explanation I've seen on-line. Which makes sense: I can't imagine any real gardener taking plants from another gardener's yard without permission. And it would really only pay to steal large numbers of plants if you could "launder" them somehow. I mean, if someone plants 500 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies in their yard, three days after all the Stellas within a 30-mile radius disappeared, you know, people would figure it out.
But even if the problem is mostly organized theft for resale, that's not what happened here with the Zantedeschia. I mean, there was a matching plant right there next to it, and they didn't take that one. Sometimes people are just greedy, or lazy, or impulsive.
I suspect this is going to happen more often, as the economy gets more dire. I can't think of any particularly good ways of preventing it, either.
There's also the issue of sneaky theft: the people who leave the whole plant, in more or less the same condition, but take leaves, seeds, offsets, or whatever without asking anybody first. That's a whole different thing, and if you want to see a bunch of people all get really self-righteous and angry with one another about where to draw those lines, this thread at Garden Web will make your day. Though remember to un-roll your eyes regularly. Whatever side you're on, you're going to want to do some eye-rolling.
Personally? I'm not pure as the driven snow on this one. I do believe it's wrong to take leaves / seeds / offsets without asking, whether it's a big box store, a mom-and-pop nursery, someone's personal garden, whatever. But I've still done it. Possibly this makes me a hypocrite; I prefer to think of it as just error-prone.
I've also realized while writing this that I've conveniently forgotten some instances: when I started, I could only remember the three-inch Pilea nummulariifolia (CLARIFICATION: Normally "three-inch Pilea" would mean a whole plant in a three-inch pot; what I actually took was a single cutting about three inches long. Doesn't make it more moral, but just to clarify your mental image.) I took from a big box store. (Plant is wildly successful; I feel seriously guilty.) Then I remembered the Zamioculcas leaflets from the floor of a mom-and-pop. (Plants are moderately successful; I feel no guilt at all but still should have asked.) Then I remembered the Kalanchoe plantlet from a different mom-and-pop. (Plant was a total failure; I feel moderately guilty.) It's possible there are others.
I would have been mad, if I'd seen someone take these same things from the garden center when I worked there. I wouldn't walk into a bakery and take a bite out of a donut and then walk out without paying; I'm not sure why the situation seems different when it's a plant involved. Some of the people in the Garden Web trainwreck tried to defend it by saying stuff like well, you know, the plant was almost completely dead already, I was just saving some offsets that would have been thrown in the trash. To me, that sounds a lot like "but I took it at 5:30 PM, and the donut was going to be thrown out at 6 PM; therefore it's not stealing because shut up that's why."
So I dunno. I'm not looking for a confessional here, and I'm really not interested in everybody doing a lot of posturing about their personal moral code. We're all good people here (Well, except you there, in the back: you're kind of horrific.); we don't have to prove goodness to one another or convince everybody else that we're the most moralest, bestest person ever.
What interests me is that last question. Why would plants feel like an exception to the general don't-take-it-if-it's-not-yours rule, enough so that people would be at Garden Web defending something that is, at least technically, stealing? (Even, in some cases, arguing that they're practically doing the place a favor by taking stuff -- stuff which clearly has value to someone, because it has value to the person doing the arguing -- without paying for it?) I'm curious. What is it about plants? Or is it specific to plants?