Anna Pavord's A to Z of pests and problems: T and U are for theft, thrip and unintelligible instructions

 

Tender

You can't blame a plant for being tender. The problem lies with us gardeners, who are not content with growing stuff that has evolved naturally to cope with our unpredictable weather. A run of mild winters, combined with a fashion for bananas, cannas and other tropical-looking gear, made us slap-happy about the effects of frost.

For years, temperatures, particularly in city plots, rarely dipped below freezing. But recently we've had a run of tougher winters and we need to take notice of the new hardiness ratings established for all plants by the Royal Horticultural Society. These range from H1a (tropical plants that need to spend their entire lives under glass at a temperature of around 15C) to H7, the rating given to the hardiest plants, able to cope with winter temperatures of -20C. Plants given H4 rating will survive the average British winter, in temperatures between -10C and -5C. Check before you buy.

Theft

High-level garden theft hit the headlines when firms such as Sotheby's in Billingshurst began to develop a specialist market in antique garden statuary, seats and urns. Victorian cast-iron twig and vine benches which had mouldered for years under dripping summer trees suddenly acquired astonishing value. I first wrote about this new phenomenon in the Nineties. Sadly, although it's no longer new, it's still with us. As always, the thieves manage to stay a step ahead of the increasingly sophisticated alarms and marking systems that owners are forced to employ to hang on to their cherubs and quietly mossed-over lions.

As I reported before, the National Trust, in whose gardens is a remarkable collection of antique urns, statues and furniture, has been the victim of some particularly damaging thefts. At Wallington in Northumberland, thieves were disturbed as they were trying to remove the fine lead statues which decorate the walled garden. The tenant of the portico house in the garden fortunately discovered the perpetrators when he returned home late at night.

Police put thefts from gardens in the same category as burglaries from houses, so you can't put an exact figure on how much is stolen from gardens. Latest Home Office figures suggest that five thousand gardens are targeted by thieves every week. Most commonly stolen are garden plants (nearly a quarter of those who suffer from garden theft lose trees and shrubs, sometimes whole hedges).

Tools are popular with thieves, but many gardeners now etch or paint a postcode on expensive items. That makes them much more difficult for thieves to sell on. But the stolen lawnmowers, strimmers, generators, garden tractors and power tools I wrote about originally are still favourite targets. Keep a record of the serial numbers; if your nicked chainsaw gets found, it's the easiest way to prove you are the rightful owner. Use gravel for your garden paths. The inevitable scrunch is as good as a shed alarm.

Rare plants were stolen from Ventnor garden (Alamy) Rare plants were stolen from Ventnor garden (Alamy)
Stealing lawnmowers and strimmers can be seen as the outdoor equivalent of lifting televisions and DVD players from inside houses. Reprehensible, but comprehensible. What is more surreal is the way that an entire pond, together with fountain and fish, can disappear > in a night, as happened to a gardener near Crewe in Cheshire. But all those who love gardening wince more painfully at news of plants being stolen than they do when told of purloined lawnmowers or strimmers. As well as being animate, plants are personal, in a way that a ride-on mower can never be.

So it's particularly shocking when entire collections of rare plants are stolen. Some time ago, it happened at the botanic garden at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, where, over 17 years, the curator, Simon Goodenough, had built up a fine collection of pseudopanax, strange spiky plants originating in New Zealand.

There's a worrying increase, too, in the theft of dogs from gardens – running now at 135,000 a year. Top of the list are springer spaniels, border terriers, and boxers. Dog thieves have evidently got good taste. But it's a mystery how a dog thief can ever persuade a springer to go off in the right direction when their owners so rarely can.

Insurance companies, always quick to spot an opening, are now offering specialised garden insurance to home owners. Policies vary in their comprehensiveness. Some cover plants in conservatories and greenhouses, but not those growing outside. Some cover hedges but not individual shrubs and trees. Check your policy. Full cover for plants may be available. But for an additional premium of course. Some companies offer substantially reduced insurance premiums if a house and garden are not left unoccupied for long periods. Some home contents policies will only cover garden machinery if it is kept under lock and key.

'Thieves', though, come in many guises. I've written before about the trio of oldish ladies who were creating havoc in the gardens they visited, hiding plants and cuttings in a selection of large handbags. The oldest (aged 80) was the mother of the other two women. They said it was all her idea. The cartoonist Giles's Grandma is evidently alive and well and living in Northumberland.

Thrip

Thrips feed on the sap of plants, like aphids. If you see leaves mottled over with fine, silvery-white lines, they might well be the cause. Different types of thrip attack onions, gladiolus, peas, privet and a wide range of indoor plants such as streptocarpus and African violet. Like aphids they can transmit viruses from one plant to another. On indoor plants and in greenhouses that are kept above freezing point, they can breed all year round. Yellow sticky traps will help to control their numbers.

U is for...

Unintelligible

This applies to the instructions on any knock-down, DIY piece of equipment which has 'Assembled in five minutes' plastered on its packing. Beware. Instructions are always written by people who have done the job a zillion times before and cannot comprehend the panic that overwhelms a first-timer confronted with seven pieces of tubing, three bolts and a lost wing nut, all supposed to transmute into a gazebo. Stay simple. Avoid equipment that tells you it packs away flat after use. Unless it is there, up and running, you will not use it at all.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'