“Plant Pirates” May Be the Latest Trend in Pandemic Harm … But There’s More to It

29 May

I’m going to guess the majority of people have experienced significant changes in their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its shutdowns. Some of these changes may be temporary (though we don’t know how long that is), and some may be permanent.

If you follow my blog, you’re familiar with what my changes have been. My business that I spent the past five years building is comatose. My ability to spread my messages of empowerment and awareness has been confined to cyberspace. My freedom to work from home in an environment designed for my disabilities is gone. I’ve had to go back to work full time, and though I found a job I really like, it’s been a physical struggle and I’m depressed about having significantly less time for my creative projects. Meanwhile, I’m still draining my savings account.

I’m but one of many, many, many cases where things are just worse. I’m but one of many, many, many people who are grieving losses. We fight to stay positive. We fight to push forward and hold hope. During this fight, we are especially vulnerable when a new loss occurs, even if it seems minuscule.

Mine was an azalea bush.

I had rushed home from my new job as a receptionist at a medical office, walked my dog, and darted upstairs to my studio to run a local government meeting via telephone because our Pennsylvania county was under a stay-at-home order. Afterwards, I jaunted across the alley to the side porch of a fellow board member to get signatures on payment requisitions. When I turned back to my house, I noticed the hole in the ground where my big, beautiful, pink-blossomed azalea bush had once been.

I was stunned. I asked my neighbor to come over and look at the void with me because I couldn’t believe my eyes. But he confirmed it. Someone literally shoveled up and stole my bush.



I wasn’t even angry. I was just in a despair of sadness. I felt like yet another piece of myself was ripped away. That bush was there when I bought my house, along with two others. I planted some hostas in between that my mom had given me. I have a wreck of a shabby chic yard, but that was one bit that looked like I actually tried. Now a whole section was lobbed off by a trespasser.

I took it personally!

Immediately, I called the town manager. I’m not one to exploit my personal connections, but he’s my pal, and I was very upset. It turns out, I’m not the first person in town whom this has happened to. I’m the third person whom they know of whose garden has been robbed.

There is now an official investigation. The police suspect it’s someone from town who has a landscaping business who is struggling to find the plants they need at stores, because pandemic shortages and all. (FYI, there are PLENTY at the stores.)

It makes me think that it’s probably not just my town. I’d bet there are “plant pirates,” as I call them, springing up around the country, stealing out of gardens for a similar reason to the one my own azaleas fell victim to.

I wonder about my own plant pirate. Is it true he has a landscaping business? Is he just struggling to keep his business afloat in these immensely difficult times? Is this his final desperate answer to put food on the table for his family?

My own business that got brutalized by this pandemic involved teaching workshops and seminars on hidden disabilities. A core message of these programs is how hard it is to know what someone is going through, to understand their circumstances, to feel their pain. So I remain sad, not angry, about what happened to my azalea bush.

Further now I wonder what will follow this plant pirate movement, what desperate measures will come about next, born from shortages and desperation, that will victimize our neighbors.

But through all my wondering, a beautiful certainty has come about….

The evening I noticed my plant had been stolen, I posted about it on the town’s forum on Facebook, as an advisory to my neighbors. I also posted about it on my personal page because I was sad and I wanted the virtual hugs. Almost immediately, a friend across the country messaged me a heads up that a brand new pink azalea bush would be delivered to my home within eight days. Two days after my post, someone I’d never met in person (a relative of a local friend) delivered a brand new pink azalea bush and a big box of fresh groceries to my porch.

I planted that first bush in the void immediately. A couple days later, some American flags appeared in that spot of garden. A neighbor decorated my yard for Memorial Day!


My second bush arrived, and while I took a day to ponder where to plant it, I received a card in the mail from another friend, someone who’s been an extra mom to me since middle school. Inside was cash and a note to buy a new azalea bush or groceries. Today, I took my “allowance” down to the local Amish roadside garden shop (where I’d always wanted to stop and I’m totally going back for baked goods!) and had a marvelous time shopping for my third bush. I ended up picking out a cute little one that the man said would bloom “red-purple,” and I also picked up something I should have gotten years ago: a lilac bush. Because lilacs are one of my favorite smells, and were once my favorite flower….

I planted two azalea bushes and the lilac bushes inside my back yard, along my second-hand fence, so I can sit on my back porch and look over at what will be a flowering monument to love, for years to come.


As much as I thought I was sentimental about my original azaleas, these four new bushes are the most precious plants I’ve ever had. In a time of such loss, they symbolize gain. Azaleas are my new favorite flower!

All this time with all these setbacks, as I do my own work towards hope and optimism, I have observed us inching forward. I feel that we are moving to better. The setbacks occur, but it’s a lot like the two-step dance. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s acceptable math.

The certainty, that I want you to know with me, is that humankind as a whole beats out the plant pirates among us. One azalea back, but three azaleas and a lilac bush forward. Keep dancing this four-step with me, and I know we are going to make it out of this together.


3 thoughts on ““Plant Pirates” May Be the Latest Trend in Pandemic Harm … But There’s More to It

  1. Love my friend- sending hugs across the miles. ( by the way- I look forward to fridays for your mail in my inbox). And while I always love your messages, know it’s okay to not always be positive….we lov e you always!!

  2. Pingback: The Good of the Awful Year - Christina Irene | Christina Irene

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