Garden Shoplifting

8 August 2016

Growing up on a farm, exploring has always been in my nature. When I was young this involved foraging and turning various plants, berries and flowers into inedible but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing replicas of meals I’d seen in my mum’s cookbooks. When I moved to Melbourne, gone were the fields to roam and explore, replaced instead by rows of houses clustered unnaturally close together with gardens overflowing with fruits, vegetables and herbs ripe for the picking.

The idea of garden shoplifting first came about when I realised that I didn’t have any rosemary to accompany the roast lamb I was making for dinner. Upon arrival to the supermarket, I was shocked to find it would cost me three dollars for a few measly sprigs. I’d always gotten what I needed from our herb garden at home, so there was no way I was paying that much. I left empty-handed and sad that my dish wouldn’t have that same herby tang and I was walking home when I happened to peek into my neighbour’s garden. Right there, bursting through the white picket fence was an overflowing abundance of rosemary. I stared at it for a good two minutes, contemplating the decision forming in my mind and after quickly checking both directions for potential witnesses, I yanked off a few stems and ran home.

Eventually, this progressed to a casual hobby involving weekends spent wandering neighbourhoods, developing quite a comprehensive list of ingredients. Making lists and writing down the exact location of every ingredient you locate is the most important step in the process of garden shoplifting. There is nothing worse than planning a lovely meal around a cluster of mint you found peeking out from the front yard of a house in Fitzroy, only to wander back to the area and not quite being able to remember down which street the house was.

Different ingredients have different value based on availability. Lemons, limes and rosemary are quite common and easy to find, due to their tendency to overhang and protrude through fences. Less common are plants such as mint and mandarins, which can still be found in multiple locations but will take a lot more exploring to locate. Lastly, there are the elusive and hard-to-find ingredients such as cumquats, chillies and, most recently, a kaffir lime tree that left me dreaming of Thai green curries.

Another vital tip for garden shoplifting is having an appropriate place to store your stolen goods immediately after the crime has been committed. Having four large lemons bulging from your jacket pockets is not a subtle look, believe me. A backpack is ideal but a tote or plastic bag will do just fine.

For those wishing to learn the art of garden shoplifting, there are a few key rules to abide by in order to ensure anonymity and success. The first is that YOU MUST NOT BE SEEN. Much like looking both ways before crossing a road, you must check in every direction for possible witnesses. This includes activity both inside and around the targeted house.

Secondly, you must be prepared for the worst-case scenario: getting caught. About a month ago I was twisting a lime off a kaffir tree when, out of nowhere, a car pulled into the driveway. In a fight-or-flight situation such as this I’d usually drop everything and run but we’re talking about a fruit in the rarest category here and I needed one to cook dinner that night. I swallowed my pride, yanked at the fruit, accidentally pulled a whole branch off the tree and sprinted down the road, leafy branch flailing behind me, the homeowners watching in horror. I have never been back.

Other rules to shop by are that there must be more than one fruit/stem on the tree. You don’t want to take someone’s only lemon, leaving them lemonless. That would just be cold-hearted. The majority of ingredients you take should be overhanging the footpath because they are technically public property, right? If not, and the garden in question has an abundance of produce, allow 10 to 20 centimetres inside the fence line. Lastly, never go back to the same location more than twice a week, especially in peak time when people are leaving or returning from work. Lunch and mid-afternoon are primetime, as well as dusk when you are cloaked in darkness.

Whether it’s a few stems of rosemary for your lamb roast you need, or like me, you seem to require a whole branch of kaffir limes, garden shoplifting is the solution to your problems. Don’t forget to give a friendly nod to any other shoplifters you might encounter in your travels but remember, discretion is key. If you don’t tell, neither will I.

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