A string of recent “bizarre” plant thefts has some garden owners on edge in Canada as they look to increase security.
Thieves – some caught on camera – have dug up plants and flowers from front lawns and also gone after trees, shrubs, soil and vegetables grown in community garden centres.
In Barrie, Ont., police received a couple of complaints in June, with one theft involving two plants valued at over $100 stolen from the porch of a home in the north end of the city, said Peter Leon, corporate communication co-ordinator of the Barrie Police Service (BPS).
Two days later, some 20 Irish flowers were dug out from the garden of another home.
“It’s kind of a bizarre type of theft that we’re seeing,” Leon told Global News.
“This is something we haven’t seen very much of certainly in our city. It’s certainly not a trend in any which way, but it’s disturbing enough.”
Meanwhile, Sheridan Nurseries, which has garden centres across Ontario, is reporting a growing number of thefts, including that of smaller houseplants.
“We have seen an increase this year – as recently as this weekend we had a number of hydrangeas stolen from one of our garden centres along with some soil,” said Victoria Mulvale, director of marketing at Sheridan Nurseries.
Stealing plants is a criminal offence that can carry a fine and a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison, Leon said.
Besides the financial loss incurred and disappointment of losing something they nurtured, garden owners say they are feeling unsafe and are looking at ways to deter invaders.
“I think every community garden in this country experienced some level of theft to their gardens,” said Julia Hinman, chair of the Inglewood Community Garden in Calgary.
“We come in here feeling that this should be a safe place for us, a respite from the world around us and other people come in here and do things … take things that don’t belong to them and your space is invaded,” she told Global News in a phone interview.
Hunters Garden Centre is a family business that has been running in British Columbia for 70 years.
The nursery has seen a wide variety of things stolen over the years, from hanging baskets, plants and trees to shrubs and soil.
Packages of seeds are of one their most stolen items and Christmas trees the costliest, said Miles Hunter, general manager and owner of Hunters Garden Centre.
Just last month, someone snagged four planters holding pink petunias that were hung up for aesthetic purposes – not for sale – on the windows at the front of the store. They were worth at least $400, said Hunter.
“It hurts us all, as we say, because we end up having to increase the price of our products to make up for the loss from theft,” he told Global News in a phone interview.
The garden centre, which has two store locations in Surrey and Vancouver, is now looking at upgrading its security system by adding more cameras and using high-resolution imagery to better help police catch the culprits, Hunter said.
On top of that, they are also planning to beef up security at the gates and fences to restrict access outside of business hours.
Green-thumbed thieves stealing plants from Vancouver park
At the Inglewood Community Garden, Hinman said they are installing trail cameras this week to help catch thieves. That is on top of a locked fence that hasn’t stopped determined thieves and vandals in the past.
Céline Dion’s sister shares heartbreaking update on singer’s health battle
Beloved surrogacy champion Jennifer Allen mourned by families, colleagues, friend
The garden, which grows organic vegetables, has run into acts of vandalism that rose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Expensive tools and fresh produce have gone missing from the half-acre area of land, said Hinman, who suspects internal theft might have even occurred by co-gardeners.
“This year we’ve only had one event. Two years ago, we had 13 events, so we’re always cautious, we’re always kind of on the edge.”
What is behind the plant theft?
Police departments in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton and Durham, Ont., told Global News they have not recorded a trend when it comes to plant theft.
However, police-reported crime is rising in Canada.
A Statistics Canada report released last month showed an almost 10 per cent increase in minor theft of $5,000 or less last year, while reported incidents of breaking and entering went up by four per cent compared with 2021.
This comes as inflation has pushed the cost of living through the roof in the country, making it harder for Canadians to make ends meet.
“I think we’re in a bit of a period right now where people are perhaps not thinking through before they carry out acts,” said Leon.
“A lot of the messaging that we try to provide back to the community is you need to secure your property at all times.”
Vehicle thefts, robberies drive rise in Canadian crimes: StatCan
Garden centre owner Hunter said the motivation for someone to steal plants could be to resell them — especially if they are expensive — and for others it might just be to make their own home look beautiful.
“I think some people might just do it out of pure boredom,” he added.
Whatever the reasons, there are a number of ways plant thieves can be deterred.
Leon said installing home security cameras outside and keeping the outdoor lights on at night can prevent intruders from approaching your property.
If you’re travelling or are away, you can also put timers on the lighting, he recommended.
Hinman says doing more outreach work and inviting community members to volunteer at the communal garden may have served as a deterrent for them.
“When they see that we are trying to benefit the community, it looks like it’s reduced.”