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Rose rip-off artists are a thorn in the side of serious gardeners

Whoa there É step away from that rose bush! Drop the pruners, and put your hands up!'

I shine the flashlight in the suspect's face, just in time to catch her eyes darting downward in shame. I, in turn, flip out my badge to identify myself and blurt out, 'Anne Jaeger, OSU master gardener,' with all the puffed-up authority of Barney Fife.

Well, that's how the scene plays out in my imagination, anyway. You see, I've always had daydreams of catching someone in the act of taking cuttings from the property of others without permission to grow their very own.

In my mind, the worst of these said crimes take place at Peninsula Park, on North Portland Boulevard. Here, I was shocked to find, these pruning predators don't just swipe a cutting here and a cutting there, taking little snippets that would only be noticed by the most discerning eye.

The culprits search for straight stems about 18 inches long to make their own boxes of long-stemmed roses from taxpayers' rose bushes.

Given my background of reporting hard news on television, these floral gleaners and gatherers should not shock or surprise me. But they do.

And one of the head rose gardeners at Peninsula Park told me several years ago that it's a growing crime, worse than black spot or powdery mildew on rose leaves. And believe you me, these gardeners have seen it all!

I suggested that maybe some bride ran short on funds the night before the wedding and, in an act of desperation, took the 'something borrowed, something blue' tradition a little too far.

No, the gardener said, it's too expertly done for that.

Worse yet, I've come to think that the practice is rampant all over the city. Oh, I've seen you out there, coyly pulling out your pint-sized pruners from their protective sleeve while acting like you're searching for a bit of tissue to dab your nose. Then you make your cutting with surgical precision and tuck it into your purse as you stroll down the block to the next victim's yard.

It's a form of flattery, I guess, when someone admires the beauty of your plants growing near the road and wants the same thing in their garden.

But let me just say right now: If it's you, stop it.

Can't roses be sacred in the City of Roses? Take a picture instead, and leave something blooming for the rest of us to enjoy, too. Are you with me on this? Good. Then let's concentrate on what needs to be done in our own back yards this time of year.

Garden to-do list:

• Fertilize roses. Use two cups of alfalfa pellets (available at feed stores) or pick up some Portland Rose Society fertilizer.

• Hang hummingbird feeders. Make your own sugar water by boiling one cup of sugar in four cups water.

• Place hoop stakes or supports around peonies before they bloom and keel over.

If it all seems like too much work, take a road trip: The Master Gardener Spring Plant Sale takes place at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds in Canby from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 4, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 5.

To order Portland Rose Society fertilizer, call 503-777-4311.

Anne Jaeger's gardening program airs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KPAM. Her 'Dig It' gardening segment is broadcast three times a week on KOIN TV.