The case of the moody gardener



Here’s one that makes me glad I can’t afford to hire gardening help, but also speaks to some of my most paranoid imaginings.

Sir Richard Tucker and Lady Jacqueline Tucker, a retired judge and his wife who live in the picturesque Cotswolds-area village of Stanton, in England, suspect that their gardener (now former gardener) killed their Wollemi pine, destroyed a flower border with weedkiller, and somehow turned their grass bright orange. The case is set to go to trial in August, and has the population of the place in somewhat of an uproar, as many in the village still employ the gardener in question. Yikes.

It seems nuts to sabotage your employer in such an obvious fashion, but I have to admit sometimes I worry about malicious vandalism to my plants. I live in a city, I have neighbors, and not all of them are cool—and not all of the people who happen to pass by are cool. Those guys I told not to sit on the public planters I help with for example. Or maybe the bar at the corner whose patio hours we have criticized.

What has happened is that last year someone snipped off a bunch of tulips and two years before someone pulled out an alocasia from the big easeway planter (shown above, but if you want to see the judge in his wig, click on the link). Just (possibly) drunken randomness that didn’t seem worth a second thought at the time. It’s so easy to wreck a garden, though. I can appreciate the shock that this judge must have experienced coming home to see his orange grass and destroyed flowers—similar to how a Toronto woman must have felt when she came home to see her entire front wildflower bed totally destroyed.

This stuff hardly ever happens, thankfully. Most of the time, when I see people walking by, they turn and smile at the front flower beds, and if they see me they have a brief compliment to offer. I do have a couple neighbors who say they don’t want to call attention to their front yards because of such fears, but it’s rare. You’d really have to have a lot of anger to want to take it out on plants—especially if it’s your profession, as is the case here.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I live on a busy corner, and we have a bunch of stores and restaurants at the end of our block. Lots of foot traffic. I have tulips and poppies planted along our back fence, which also runs along the sidewalk. It looks very pretty in bloom, but people are always plucking the flower heads off.

    Is it wrong that this pisses me off?

    I try to tell myself that it’s just stupid kids. And then I remember that I was taught to respect other people’s property, and I get annoyed all over again.

    The vast majority of pedestrians seem to enjoy my yard, and I get plenty of compliments. Those plucked blooms never fail to make my blood boil a bit, though.

  2. Oh the malicious thoughts that can lurk in the gardener’s head when the the client acts like a total ass. Roundup can make for some creative expression in the blank green canvas of a lawn.

  3. I live in a city too, just up the hill from an area known as “the gulch” that my husband informs me has been a scene of dissipation since the early 19th century. I love Saratoga’s rakish personality, which includes more bars per capita, I’d bet, than any other town in upstate New York. But as a gardener, I pay a little for this personality, especially when the town swells up with gamblers during track season. For me, it takes the form of an endless supply of pizza plates and beer bottles that wind up in my front garden. Plus, the idiot who every night hung a beer can onto a branch of my little peach tree.

    Still, most of the mischief remains polite. So far nobody’s stolen the rockers that sit on my front porch–or my planters.

  4. A friend of mind who lives on about 15 acres in the middle of nowhere recently was morel hunting on her property and encountered a guy sitting in the gazebo by her pond. He didn’t even acknowledge her. Later that day she and her husband went out. When they came home, they discovered all of her tulips ripped out of the ground and arranged on her patio table. Too creepy.

    As for me, I recently discovered that someone had cut my 100 foot garden hose off at the end to steal my watering wand. I was incensed. I felt totally violated. As far as I’m concerned, steal my car but don’t mess with by garden stuff.

  5. We have two public gardens around two beautiful historic houses in town, and the volunteer gardeners at each complain that people often pick flowers and even pull freshly-planted annuals out of the ground, presumably to take them home for their own yards (since the plants themselves are nowhere to be found). A lot of folks around here figure that if it’s public property, they can help themselves. What they’re not understanding is the difference between public use and private use. The property is public, yes, but taking anything from it for yourself is private use and is not permitted.

    The lovely private university in town also has an extensive garden along the mill race that runs through campus. They’ve handled the problem of disappearing flowers by designating one section as a cutting garden, and providing a little sign telling how to properly cut flowers. The garden is a naturalistic landscape that is also used as an outdoor classroom, particularly by the biology department, so many students have a sense of ownership and look out for the garden.

  6. I had a neighbour who was into chemical yardening; too bad that I was an organic gardener. I came home one day to find the house full of the smell of chemicals, the south facing screen window to the porch (which looked onto my neighbour’s garden) had some yellow stuff all over the screen.
    A couple of days later my beautiful perennial garden began to twist and die, most badly at the side nearest the neighbour’s garden but reaching the whole 25ft of mine to some extent. I have to think that this was deliberate, perhaps because I asked his Lawncare man, who was spraying his front lawn on a very windy day and who was wearing no protective clothing, to stop spraying as it was not allowed on a windy day and would blow onto my vegetable garden.

    My neighbour died of cancer – the result of too many chemicals? Certainly around that time a very popular SK nurserywoman and garden died of cancer, which she publically attributed to garden chemicals.

  7. A teacher friend told me a story of a high school love gone bad: girl dumped boy, boy writes “b**ch” with Roundup in front lawn of girl’s home. New sod didn’t fix the problem. The parents had to dig up the entire front lawn and replace the dirt and the sod a second time (though I would have probably just planted some flowers).

  8. Yep… I met a woman with 3 kids leaving our prairie park… All of them had an armful of flowers (they had picked about half the Liatris in the park!).

    Her attitude? She was a taxpayer, and therefore, the plants were hers.

  9. I had some gorgeous iris with blooms as big as your head (not to imply your head is either too huge or the size of an iris bloom–I’ve seen your head and its roughly in proportion to the rest of you).

    Anyway, one morning I went out and someone had picked them! Well, less “picked” than it looked like they chewed through the stems to get them. At least the iris didn’t give up without a fight.

    There’s a major hospital down the street from me. I’m hoping, at least, that they were given to someone there to make them feel better.

  10. I came home last winter to find that someone had scattered a five-pound bag of lawn seed all over my front yard, which is entirely a raised bed of cacti, succulents, CA Natives and other low water plants. The plastic bag the seed came in, was pushed down into a Opuntia mircodasys, which is the most evil of all cacti! It is covered with micro-barbed spines that make it look like soft bunny ears but gets you every time you get near it. Being winter in Northern California it was of course raining… so my shop-vac did not do a very good job cleaning up the grass seed. It sprouted all winter. It has been a nightmare pulling the grass from between all the spiny cacti…

    The annoying thing is that was premeditated vandalism; they had to go some place and buy grass seed!

  11. For years I worked at the Smithsonian in Washington. In rose season, there was a woman who appeared in the rose garden every day and cut herself a lovely bunch of whatever roses were blooming–not just one or two but a dozen or so. One day a couple of us staff members challenged her, and she said — “Oh, I have permission to do this”. Checking revealed that …no, she did not have permission from anyone in the Horticulture department.

  12. Oh my goodness, such stories. I could have gone on about my struggles with public gardening. I saw a guy sitting on one of my big concrete containers today. God it made me mad. But the confrontations never go well.

    Jim, if those were bearded iris, I do not think they last long in the vase. Kinda like picking daylilies.

    Swampgardener, you have to kind feel for this lovesick kid.

  13. So many garden nightmares. We have a disturbed women in our neighborhood who wanders the streets very early plucking branches and blossoms without pruners and pulling up annuals to take home. It has been quite frustrating for us. I have caught her twice, once in my yard and once in the neighbors. There is little the police can or want to do.

  14. I once was the victim of what I’ll call reverse vandalism: Instead of stealing from me, someone left a garden gnome in my foundation border. So weird and odd, we laughed for days. And just when we were getting used to having the little fellow around, someone swiped him. It’s still a mystery.

  15. When I was a kid, my mother occasionally cut off a bunch of lilacs in bloom, put them in a vase, and snuck into a neighbor’s house to leave them there. Or at least she did that once (it stuck in my head because it was the first — maybe only — time I was in that house): I have a pretty vivid memory of it.

    They were our lilacs, so not really vandalism: I guess it was more like Jessica’s reverse-vandalism thing.

  16. I have an organic gardening business and regardless of how badly a client/former client behaves, including non-payment, I cannot imagine taking it out on the plants that I put my heart and soul into cultivating. Besides, my company is named after my two deceased cats and the horrors that would await me and my karma in the life beyond, if I did harm to others, are too ghastly to even contemplate.

  17. Around here we say there are two people you definitely don’t want to piss off: your electrician, and your gardener.
    Like others, though, I couldn’t take revenge on a customer through the plants I love and care for. Not so with a landscaper in a nearby town. Two palm trees died on a job he had done, and the homeowner had them replaced. The new palms died, so the homeowner had them replaced again. The newest palms died, too. Suspecting a problem with the site, the man who was replacing the palms discussed the problem with the original landscaper, who laughed and said, “Those trees will never live there. I’ve been spraying Roundup into the buds every time you replace them.”
    Seems there was a disagreement about the bill at the end of the job.

  18. I once worked for a seemingly unstable landscapresse who bragged that when other gardeners “stole” her accounts, she would freeze R*UP in ice cube trays and do midnight drive-by herbicide strafings on the lawns of her faithless clients.

    Needless to say, my immediate internal response was, “Note to self- find another job before you piss this woman off.”

  19. While nobody can ever condone vandalism to someone else’s property, it is often the case that the Lords and Ladies bring such catastrophes on themselves.

    Being a contractor in some rather salubrious surroundings in southern England I came across many holier than though characters who treated their ‘staff’ like menials.

    However, some of them went to the other extreme.

    I was fortunate to do contract work for Lord and Lady Lubbock and Sir Humphrey and Lady Tollemarché who were virtually neighbours in rather magnificent surroundings in the village of Steep, Petersfield.

    Sir Alan Lubbock was the High sheriff of Hampshire and I can imagine him to have had a rather privileged life and maintained a rather large estate called Adhurst.

    However, he was in his very late nineties or hundreds and the estate had long since gone past it’s glorious best but Sir Alan kept his two gardeners Henry and George on until their respective deaths. Henry and Fred used to both come to work for an hour a day in the massive walled garden that had an ever diminishing space of cultivated soil that they both tended.

    There is a picture from the air of the estate here –

    Sir Humphrey, who employed me to maintain his garden was an true gentleman. Even though they employed full time gardeners as well, both Sir Humphrey and Lady (although she could be a little terse) treated myself and my staff with the utmost of respect.

    They were a product of a romantic period of British life that is so lacking today.

    Sorry to digress and reminisce so much:)


  20. Thanks Phil,

    I was hoping someone closer to the case would respond. Love your blog! And if I am ever over there visiting gardens again, I will see if the ones you mention are ever open.

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