Q What sort of things are stolen from gardens?
A Bicycles are top of the list, followed by plants and then power machinery, such as lawnmowers. Hand tools are frequently taken and, together with ladders, may be used to gain access to the house. Containers, ornaments and furniture are also popular targets.
Caption: Secure boundaries can help protect your garden from intruders
Q Should I be worried, as the contents of my shed aren’t worth much and I only spend a few pounds a year on plants?
A Think about how much these things would cost to replace: your hand tools, perhaps inherited or bought second-hand, could easily cost £200; and the shrubs you raised from cuttings could now be worth £50 each as mature specimens. And remember, if you leave your shed unsecured, thieves can easily use the tools and equipment inside to help them gain entry to your house.
Q Where are items most likely to be stolen from?
A Many thefts occur in the open garden, but sheds and garages are increasingly being targeted, particularly during the summer.
Q What can I do to protect my garden?
A There are two basic approaches: making the most likely targets of theft more secure; and making the garden as a whole less attractive to thieves.
Q How do I make my garden less attractive to thieves?
A Start with secure boundaries. At the back, prickly hedges – such as hawthorn, pyracantha or berberis – are a good deterrent, and adding a foot or two of trellis to a fence panel makes it much more difficult to climb, without making the garden feel too shut in. At the front of the house, don’t give thieves anywhere to hide: make sure the garden is visible from the road. The police recommend that front hedges are kept at a height of 0.9m or less. Loose gravel, which is noisy when walked on, will put off intruders, as will security lights and alarms. If you have a house alarm you could include your garage or shed in the system, or you can get battery-operated alarms (for a building or to fit to a garden ornament). These are sometimes available at a discount from police stations.
Q What is the best way to secure tools and equipment?
A Lock them up in a secure shed or garage, or take them into the house. Secure the doors of sheds or garages by fitting them with two high-security padlocks, one a third of the way up from the bottom of the door, the other a third of the way down from the top. Ordinary screws are easy to undo or prise off, so secure the padlock hasps with coach bolts or clutch-head screws (available from hardware stores). Individual tools and ladders can be secured with a chain attached to the wall. Make sure the roof is securely fixed, fit grilles to the windows and use curtains or blinds to hide the shed contents from view.
Q What about plants and containers?
A Hanging baskets and ornamental containers are popular targets. Baskets can be fixed out of reach, or secured by chaining the rim of the basket to the bracket. Tubs can be cemented in place, or bolted down through the drainage hole. New garden plants are also at risk as they are easily pulled up, so do not draw attention to them. Remove the labels and cultivate or water the whole area so that the new planting does not stand out. Valuable plants and ornaments can be secured with ground anchors in conjunction with wire or a chain – they cost from about £20.
Q Should I mark belongings in my garden?
A Putting your postcode on your belongings makes it three times more likely you will get them back if they are stolen. You can do this by painting, engraving or burning it into an inconspicuous place, or using a special pen only readable by ultraviolet light – often available free from the police. You can even get microchips to insert into statues, and other valuable items. Customising tools, for example by painting stripes on your spade or flowers on your mower, is a deterrent as it makes them too recognisable to sell.
Q Where can I go for advice about my particular garden?
A All police forces offer crime prevention information in the form of leaflets, and additional advice that can be tailored to your particular circumstances. Local Neighbourhood Watch and similar schemes – of which there are now more than 100,000 round the country – can also help to protect property.
1 Find out if you really are covered. Tools and equipment in a reasonably secure garden shed should be covered by your house contents insurance, and the shed itself by the house buildings insurance. However, if your hedgetrimmer is stolen from the garden while you go in for lunch, it may well not be covered – and, even if it is, the limit you can claim back may be as low as £100. If you keep it at your allotment, then it is unlikely to be covered at all. Cover for garden plants is becoming more common, but you still have to watch out for limits, which are often as low as a few hundred pounds – inadequate to replace even a modest container plant collection or a vandalised shrub border. General policies rarely cover livestock, so, if you have valuable fish or birds, get them covered separately.
2 If not, get covered. First, work out what it would cost to replace all your garden tools and equipment and even any plants you want to insure. Remember, mature plants are worth much more than young ones. Check at your local garden centre for up-to-date prices. Always check your policy to see what’s covered – if it’s not clear or misses something you want covered, contact your insurer or broker. Valuable items that can’t be locked away in the shed, such as benches or statues, may not be covered, but you should be able to extend your policy. Remember to make a note of the serial numbers of power tools, and keep photographs of valuable items such as ornaments.