What if your garden ends up with a fence?

Check your insurance before you go mad at the nursery, writes Dido Sandler
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The Independent Online
Arthur Steevens, a keen gardener from Stockport in Cheshire, got rather upset one morning last year when he woke up and found a hole in the garden where his flowering rhododendron had been. Five further rhododendrons came into bloom and were in turn snaffled.

Mr Steevens is not alone. Last year more than a million households were troubled by garden crime. Both theft and vandalism are big problems and there is no sign of a let-up.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says that, for garden thieves, mowers and tools are probably the equivalent of televisions and videos for burglars, easy to steal and easy to sell. But more ambitious thieves take lawns, hedges, even ponds with fountains and fish. Zurich Municipal, an insurance firm, says that in its own claims experience, nobody has ever stolen garden gnomes. Most likely to go are clothes off lines. Garden thieves, it would appear, are either style victims or just plain perverted.

Gardening is a popular hobby and pounds 2.5bn is spent annually on horticultural pursuits.But before embarking on a spending spree at the local nursery to stock up this Easter, householders should ask themselves if their home insurance policy is up to the job.

Gardens are notoriously easy to steal from but most home policies offer relatively little cover as standard. Churchill Insurance, for instance, will only pay out up to pounds 250. A spokeswoman for Cornhill Insurance said her company offered no garden cover. Barclays offers up to pounds 500 for garden furniture but shovels and lawnmowers must be locked in a shed to be covered. Other insurers also restrict cover to the contents of locked sheds.

However, garden furniture and tools are one thing; plants, trees and expensive statues are another. If your Venus de Milo cost more than pounds 250, Churchill Insurance for one will not extend its pounds 250 limit, even for an extra premium. Few insurers pay out on plants even though shrubs and trees can cost hundreds of pounds to replace. Japanese acer trees may sell for pounds 200, bonsais ditto, commoner trees might cost pounds 70-pounds 120.

The Metropolitan Police has suggested a natural sort of insurance policy: it has handed out leaflets at the Hampton Court Annual Show and the Chelsea Flower Show on attractive but thorny shrubs you can cultivate to ward off unwanted visitors. Entitled The Garden Strikes Back, it describes how species such as roses, aralia perennials, crataegus and ilex (hollies) will act as a deterrent.

Then again, keen gardeners should perhaps consider trying to bump up their insurance in case these organic shock tactics fail to work. The insurer offering the only specialist garden policy, CGA Direct, has recently gone bust although existing policies remain in force through Churchill Insurance. Churchill is still deciding whether to continue marketing Gardenguard to new policyholders.

Norwich Union and Zurich Municipal have both developed add-on garden policies to their home contents insurances. Plantsmans Plus, a Norwich Union policy, is arranged by JSJ Insurance Services and covers loss or damage to gnomes and other ornaments, as well as plants, shrubs and trees up to the value of pounds 2,000. The average policy cost is pounds 20. But there is a single-item limit of pounds 100.

For an extra pounds 18 a year, on top of your contents insurance, Zurich Municipal's Home Solutions policy insures lawns, statues, plants and ornaments up to pounds 1,000 against theft. The policy also pays out on storm damage to gates and fences, as well as damage from fallen trees.

Buildings insurance policies normally cover garden walls but tend to draw the line at gates and fences. Insurers believe these are for the most part rotten or in a state of disrepair, and prone to collapse.

Guardian's Heritage and Commercial Union's Keynote policies, which are home policies for people wanting contents cover of pounds 100,000, include higher levels of protection for garden contents too. But premiums are also high: Keynote's average cost is just over pounds 1,000.

The Association of British Insurers also offers some security tips:

Keep your shed locked. The contents are attractive in themselves, but also provide implements with which to break into your home.

Put down gravel on garden paths so that thieves cannot creep away silently.

Bolt down urns and tubs, or weigh them down with bricks so they are difficult to move. Anchor down valuable plants and trees and secure garden furniture to the lawn if you are away from the house.

Prune shrubs and keep the garden neat.

Remove labels from shrubs.

Scratch your name on the lawnmower and make a note of the serial number.

Contacts: CGA Direct, 0800 525200; JSJ Insurance/Norwich Union, 0161 483 8800; Zurich Municipal: 0800 868686.

Dido Sandler works for 'Financial Adviser', a specialist trade publication.

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