Was I bad? Or practical?

I’ve mentioned the abandoned house next door a few times. The sheriff’s sale has been postponed yet again, and the woman at the sheriff’s office told Mike that often the banks hang onto these properties for years, unwilling to let them go “for a song” like everyone thinks will happen. We wonder if the place will just cave in at some point, and still worry that someone unscrupulous will buy it.

In the meantime, I had an all-day-in-the-yard working day on Saturday. It was great, but tiring. I noticed the sad house had some pretty phlox blooming around the bottom of the mosquito-magnet pool, and a row of large, thriving hostas. They were the only thing even remotely attractive about the place, so they stood out.

We have lots of spots that need filling in. Would it be so terrible if I dug out some of said phlox and hosta and gave them a good home? Mike thought not (as long as I didn’t “decimate” things), so off I went with my shovel and bucket.

I tried to be sensitive — pulled some phlox from several spots, and found one hosta trying to grow out from under a large log someone had dumped on top of it (there are large wood “rings” from a cut tree piled all up the yard). So I dug that one out, and took some pieces from another, leaving 4 or 5 completely intact. I noted again the complete dismal state of the place — abandoned lawn mower and kid’s bike, falling down swing set and shed — and kept a wary eye out for poison ivy.

But I also noted that someone had taken care to try to make the pool area attractive, with lights around the base, raised planting beds prepared with fabric to keep the weeds down, nice mulch. The weeds are starting to win out now, but I wondered when it had all gone so wrong. The vamoosed neighbors are the ones who put up the pool at some point. What made them totally give up? Nothing was done home improvement-wise in the 3 years we lived side by side — we were happy to see the grass cut every now and then.

Even so, the “no trespassing” and “respect for private property” gene runs deep in me, so I do feel a little guilty about the foray (I remembered that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life where George and Mary throw stones at the abandoned house they later buy…)

I also feel like I want to go over and grab some more of the same.

Am I a thief or a thrifty gardener?

I know if someone responsible ever does buy the place and fix it up, I will go over, admit my pillaging, and make amends with divisions from my own garden, at once returning the favor and easing my nagging conscience. (And if someone awful buys the place and trashy people move in, I’ll be sorry I didn’t take more.)

A man sooner or later discovers that he is the
master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life.
~ James Allen


  1. robbie said,

    Monday, May 4, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    You were bad and a thief. However, there is an unstated garden law that permits one to take neglected or abused plants from abandoned property as long as you lovingly take care of them. Every gardener has done so. Many years ago Janie and Bruce gently removed a beautiful deep purple wild flower (can’t recall the name) from a yard in Sewickley Heights (were there for an auction). Now that same plant populates Brookside Farms! And someone I know drove their Roller into a neighbor’s driveway under cover of night to “borrow” deep purple iris (the neighbor had died and the house was for sale). Said iris bloomed one year and the new neighbors dug out the other iris so I’m glad someone tried to save the beauties!

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Monday, May 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Oh, I like that law! And you reminded me how sad I was when I left gorgeous peach irises at Wedgewood when I moved, only to find the new owners dug them all out and tossed them.These were the same people that replaced a row of thriving pampas grass (from that one big Brookside Farms plant you will remember) with dreaded forsythia! (Did I mention we purloined some myrtle last fall, but I don’t think it did very well…) Actually, I was pretty disappointed there wasn’t more to choose from — I looked hard!

  3. harehill said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    hhmmm, thief or thrifty? i have to go with thief, removed something that was not yours to take! but alas, there is something of the ‘rescue’ that redeems you.
    i am reminded of a local story of garden ladies..there is (or was, there is now a big addition, a barbeque pit, and childrens toys litter the once lavish now decimated gardens), a very sweet english arts and crafts style, (in the manner of voysey), house. two ancient sisters lived there and spent years creating exquisite gardens complete with topiary, terraces, and fabulous flower beds. now said sisters died. no sooner had word got round the ladies garden club before these “ladies” minds turned to theft. the gardens had been stripped, under cover of darkness, of the most rare and beautiful plants before the bodies of the spinsters were even cold!

  4. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Oh my! Perhaps you are right — those blooming phlox and thriving row of hostas are likely the best things about the house! Mea culpa. (We have also removed over the years, even while the house was occupied, many fallen branches, weeds, and poison ivy — suppose we should have left those, too.)

  5. Facie said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Tough call. I pick up litter from abandoned houses all the time. One could argue that I am both trespassing and stealing. I don’t care; I am just trying to make things look better. In your case, you are trying to save something, although there is a personal gain involved. I think if you do some cleanup, you can probably keep the plants with a clearer conscience.

    I like the idea of your telling the new neighbors what you did, although depending on the type of people they are, that might make them uncomfortable and they might just wonder if you are going to take some of their plants late one night…

  6. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    HA — LOL at the thought of raiding the gardens of my occupied neighbors’ homes! Believe me, anyone reputable who buys that place will not be worried about the loss of a hosta and some phlox — they’ll be too concerned with how to stop the roof from collapsing. Now that I think of it, my first peace offering had better be something more practical than garden cuttings…

  7. slave to cats said,

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    View yourself as a foster parent for those plants. They needed guidance, you took them in and cultivated them.–Since the parents were nowhere to be seen. When new owners of the house show up, if they’re nice, you can offer some of the plants back (which have grown and can be split out a bit). If the new residents of the house are losers, well you were meant to permanently adopt these babies anyway!

  8. WritingbyEar said,

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Well, I’m happy to foster plants until such time as they can live happily on their own — preferably in MY garden.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: