Chelsea Gardeners Say Lily Snatcher is Ripping Up Their Flowers

By Mathew Katz on May 31, 2012 1:25pm 

A blank spot in a Ninth Avenue garden left after a person snatched flowers.
A blank spot in a Ninth Avenue garden left after a person snatched flowers.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — Call it invasion of the lily snatchers.

Gardeners up and down Ninth Avenue are fuming after discovering on Saturday that someone ripped up dozens of lilies in their well-manicured plant beds just as the flowers were about to bloom.

The beds, which lie between the bike lane and the street on Ninth Avenue between West 18th and 23rd streets, are maintained by roughly 50 members of the Chelsea Garden Club.

Missy Adams, who helps run the club, said a big chunk of her plot at West 20th Street and Ninth Avenue is now empty ever since the dastardly flower-plucker picked out her Asiatic and Calla lilies. Another plot at West 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue had 14 flowers cruelly ripped away.

What's perplexing, Adams said, is that many of the other flower varieties were unharmed and the plucked-up lilies were left there on the bed after the perpetrator tore them up.

"We've always had some theft, but this is the most extreme we've ever seen it," Adams said. "It's discouraging to have your hard work ruined."

The club is able to plant what it wants on the beds thanks to an agreement with the city's parks and transportation departments, which co-own them. The group began to tend to them last year to great success, and even has a Facebook group dedicated to urban gardening tips and pictures of their prized flowers.

The club's gardeners range in skill, with some just planting cheap seeds from the corner store and others finely manicuring their plots like a well-kept suburban lawn.

At a meeting of the 10th Precinct's community council on Wednesday night, Deputy Inspector Elisa Cokkinos said that her officers were not aware of the blooming vandalism, but that she'd direct them to investigate.

"We'll let the guys know about it and make them more aware of it," she said. "We'll certainly take a peek at it."

While Adams doesn't have any idea who the plucking perp was, she did say that the large number of tourists coming into the neighborhood to visit the High Line, along with drunk revelers at night, means that the suspect could be hard to track down.

The lily snatcher has left the torn-up flowers in the beds.
The lily snatcher has left the torn-up flowers in the beds.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

This isn't the first time someone has attacked plants in the area. Both Adams and several other store owners have complained of Eighth Avenue's infamous "Pigeon Lady" — a woman who has ripped out plants in front of stores and residences as well.

Adams provided a picture of the woman ripping out plants from one of the mid-lane gardens and said she did so in order to use the blank spots to feed a flock of pigeons that follow her around.

Cops could not confirm the woman's name, but said they were aware of her plant-snatching activities.

In the past, the Chelsea Garden Club has also caught thieves digging up their more valuable flowers in the hopes of transplanting them to their own gardens.

Not everyone was so phased by the alleged flower-snatchings. Alberto Ramirez, 44, said he didn't notice any difference in the bed he was lounging near at West 20th Street and Ninth Avenue on Wednesday evening.

"I guess there's a bit of a hole, but it looks the same," he said. "There's so many other flowers."

While she's discouraged enough by the thefts to go to the police, Adams said she realizes that tending to a high-traffic space that's open to the public means that some or all of it could be ruined at any time.

"Last year, this would have broken my heart," she said. "This year, I know that you plant what you can and hope for the best."

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