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
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans is the favourite to replace Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear
TV
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing