I live in what you would typically refer to as a ‘safe neighborhood’ … good schools, great neighbors, access to decent-paying jobs, solid property values. That’s why I chose it as the place to buy our first home. It’s also why it was a severe gut punch when I got the frantic call at work that I our home was just robbed[i] in broad daylight.
My wife had just come home from running errands—groceries and our six-month-old daughter in her arms—she came in the side door as she always does. Hearing this, the thief quickly exited through the front door and jogged down the street with my gaming system and some of our other small electronics and belongings stashed inconspicuously in a gym bag.
Property crimes are often opportunistic
Thankfully, no one was hurt. He just stole our stuff. But he also left us with an extremely uneasy feeling and a lot of questions. Why us? Is this neighborhood really safe? Should we move? If not, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?
Property crimes are opportunistic. People are more likely to break into homes with a simple point of entry and take items that are easy to carry (and easier to sell[ii]) to make a quick getaway. Our open gate, driveway running to the detached garage in the back yard and right past a sunroom in the rear of the house with its large windows, provided a relatively open opportunity.
Crime against nature
What I did next is predictable. I filed a police report, then researched and installed a security system. What I did after that may be more surprising – I planted.
Landscaping after crisis may seem like an odd move, but I wasn’t enhancing our home’s curb appeal. I was adding another line of defense. I noticed the robber didn’t go all the way around to the back windows where a holly bush was growing. He chose a side window even though visibility from the street was actually better. That’s when it hit me. I’d go old school and pit crime against nature. It makes sense. Natural security barriers of all kinds have been used since the days of castles, moats and battlefields. Why not my home too?
So I visited my local garden center, asked a lot of questions of a knowledgeable (and patient) clerk who gave me an education on thorns, pointed leaves, and abrasive spines.
Adding these types of “defensive plants” to your landscape not only impedes access to areas of opportunity to your home, but they can also be a source for DNA (blood, skin, torn clothing) left behind to help police identify the crooks.
Picking the proper defense plants
It’s important to select defensive plants that are suited for your climate and planting conditions (sun, rain fall, etc.), budget, and even your abilities. Not every variety of plant can grow in certain parts of the country. You need to research what will work best for your yard. Seeing that I had just shelled out an unplanned installation and monthly fees for a remote security system, I also needed to be mindful of the cost of the plants. Also, I’m no master gardener, so I needed these plants to be hardy and low maintenance. As it turns out, my American Holly is indeed a plant that checked off all of these boxes and could be one to consider when developing your natural barriers. These plants that I bought also are effective, considerably hands-free, and relatively inexpensive.
Roses have an unfair reputation for being difficult to grow, but many varieties, especially wild roses, need little care and add a layer of built-in security.
The plant has the word “thorn” right in its name and has plenty of them right on their twigs and branches. They tend to like more sun, but adapt to a wide range of growing conditions and tolerate summer droughts very well.
It’s known for its year-round black-purple and green color, low maintenance, adaptability, and wickedly sharp barbs. (Added bonus, it’s also a known deer deterrent.)
One last thing — our story has closure. While we didn’t recover our belongings, the police did catch the robber a few weeks later. He was identified leaving my home by my neighbors and he had hit 14 other homes in our and surrounding areas, leaving behind a signature cut pattern in each window screen. He ultimately confessed after being questioned.
i Many people use the terms burglary and robbery interchangeably, but there is a significant difference. Burglary involves breaking and entering a structure with the intent to commit a crime. Robbery, however, is defined as the theft of property or money through the threat of violence. A victim must be present in order for a crime to be considered robbery. Additionally, burglary deems it unnecessary for theft to be committed, and a crime classified as a robbery requires theft to occur.
ii According to the FBI’s latest crime statistics, property crimes resulted in losses estimated at $14.3 billion.