The day I took on the petunia pinchers… and won
When ruthless thieves tried to steal Harry Cook’s award-winning petunias, he fought back – and became a local hero. Melonie Clarke speaks to him about a very suburban story of derring-do…
Mr Cook and his wife moved into their house in Loughborough 45 years ago and he has been nurturing his garden ever since – especially after retiring from his job as a JCB driver. 'I was gardening at the age of 13, so I've always loved it, especially the front garden.' It's no wonder that he has gone on to win many awards, including one for Best Front Garden in Britain In Bloom. He also worked on a family member's allotment from the age of 13.
It is his petunias, however, that are the real envy of his green-fingered friends: 'I love my petunias, with their tidal waves of colour. They are my favourites because you can do such a lot with them; you can encourage them to climb, or plant them in a hanging basket and let them cascade. They are beautiful.'
Unfortunately, others also had their (rather more sinister) eyes on his petunias – and just days before judges for this year's East Midlands Britain In Bloom competition were due to inspect his floral display. For while Mr Cook was pottering in his garden, two men in a van pulled on to his drive and started to load their vehicle with his beloved petunias – along with several potted conifers.
When he saw what was happening, however, he moved swiftly. 'I asked what they thought they were doing – and not in so many polite words – to which the man replied "I'm having these".' Mr Cook was not about to let his prize-winning petunias be stolen without a fight, however, so standing bravely in front of the van, trowel in hand, he blocked their escape. 'I said "You can put the bloomin' things back!" It was probably lucky for the van man that my wife wasn't at home. If she had been with me they would have had two of us to contend with.'
Despite the fact that the two men initially claimed they did not realise the plants belonged to anybody, they did eventually start to take the pots out of the van. Mr Cook took their registration number, which he handed to the police, but he considered that to be 'the end of it. They put them back and that was the most important thing,' he says.
Living in a university town, of course, Mr Cook is no stranger to losing a plant or two. 'In December the students have had a couple of conifers for Christmas trees.' But luckily that was the worst of the trouble until this most recent incident.
His floral displays are well known in the area, but now the locals are not just impressed by his garden, they also consider him to be a local hero. His wife even told the papers at the time: 'I am incredibly proud of Harry. He stood up for himself and the thieves got nothing.'
Not that modest Mr Cook would call himself a hero. He's far too polite – or dare we say, down to earth. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending in that all of his flowers were returned. But the petunia pinchers are still at large, so guard your gardens and your gnomes.
Actress has her gargoyles returned safely after threat
Actress Phyllida Law (pictured right) took up the character of a witch, after two gargoyles were taken from outside her house, and threatened to 'curse' the thief who had taken them. Following a bout of bad luck, the thief returned the gargoyles, begging for the curse to be lifted.
Gnome held at ransom
Norman the gnome was kidnapped from Lorraine Dearing's garden. The kidnappers left her a chilling ransom note demanding 1,000p and included a photograph of Norman being held at knifepoint. Mrs Dearing will not give in to this kind of pressure from thieves.
Gardener fined for health and safety hazard
A gardener has been fined £6,000 after a neighbour caught him and reported him to the authorities. John Holland had no protection or safety equipment, putting himself, and others, at risk as he was taking on a tree with a chainsaw.
Gnome sweet gnome
A garden gnome has been returned home after a seven-month period around the world, stolen. The original owners thought that children had taken Murphy; little did they know that he was jetting off around the world. When he was returned to his rightful owners, the photos of his sightseeing accompanied him.
Vegetable thief gets ASBO
A vegetable thief has been given a five year ASBO, banning him from every garden and allotment in the country. The 76-year-old launched early-morning raids digging up gardeners' best produce from their gardens. He was later caught on CCTV and charged.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920