By Ray Carbone
NEW LONDON – For the second time in two years, a valuable Japanese maple tree has been stolen from the community garden around the Tracy Memorial Library.
Sandra Licks, the library’s director, said that the most recent theft was discovered about a month ago. “Someone just dug it out and made off with it,” she said. “It’s a bit odd and kind of sad.”
Donna Ferries, president of the nonprofit Garden at Tracy Library volunteer organization that oversees the garden, said she and other members of her group are upset about the vandalism. “Particularly when it’s happened a second time,” she said.
The small tree was first installed in 2016 to honor long-time area resident Sue Little, who oversaw a restoration of the original 1927 garden about 15 years ago, Ferries explained.
“It was (planted) when she resigned from the board,” the current president said of her predecessor. (Little lived in the New London area until recently, she added.) Last year, the group waited about a month after the original theft before replacing the plant last year.
Licks said that Sue Ellen Weeds-Park, the professional gardener who manages the plantings, told her that the most recent incident occurred around May 15.
‘Someone just dug it out and made off with it. It’s a bit odd and kind of sad.’
Tracy Memorial Library Director Sandra Licks
After both thefts, New London Police were notified, Ferries said. “They’ve offered to install a camera,” she noted.
The plant theft is not the first vandalism in the garden. “We have a beautiful fountain,” Ferries said, “and last year, somebody tried to lift it out. And, in doing so, they broke off a water spout.” The valuable copper fixture cost about $1,000 to repair, a cost that was divided between the gardening group and the library trustees, she explained.
The original Morgan Homestead property, on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets, was purchased in 1918 by long-time summer resident Jane Tracy with the goal of converting it into a town library and community center. The building briefly served as the town’s original hospital before work began on the garden area. When it was completed, the grounds included a square garden area surrounded by lilac bushes, four L-shaped beds of flowers surrounded by grass paths and other plantings.
Photographs from the era show a community landmark that many residents enjoyed, but over the years, the property was neglected. By the 1990s, all that remained of the original garden were some trees and shrubs. Interest in the grounds then revived, and in the early 2000s, a restoration project, lead by then-Garden at Tracy President Little, returned it to its original picturesque state and community asset.
The stolen plant is known as an Acer palmatum, or “waterfall,” Japanese elm. “It’s a special variety, grown just to be very, very full and its branches cascade down like a waterfall,” Ferries said. “I have one and it only grows about three-feet high.
“I think they’re worth somewhere between $60 and $80,” she explained. “In New York, they chain them down, chain them to rocks (for security).”
Licks said the location of the small woody plant, by a shed and near the property line, may have been a factor in the thefts. “It’s not in a highly visible area,” she said.
Ferries confirmed that the garden group is considering that possibility. “When we do replant it, we’re wondering if we should put it in the same place,” the president said. “We may want to put in an area that’s more visible.”
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.