Plants Uprooted From Area Cultural Gardens

CLEVELAND (AP) - Thousands of dollars worth of flowers, shrubs and trees have vanished from area cultural gardens in a string of thefts.

Gino Colage said he spent more than a year working on the Italian Cultural Garden for a ceremony honoring U.S. soldiers who died in Italy during World War I.

Colage, 77, said most of the hundreds of flowers he planted are gone. The mulch was pocked Monday with gaping holes.

"It broke my heart," he said.

In the last week, many of the two dozen cultural gardens that line Martin Luther King Boulevard east of downtown -- including those honoring Greeks, African-Americans, Poles and Slovaks -- have been hit, said Ben Stefanski II, a volunteer gardener.

Taken from the Slovenian garden were four rose bushes, 10 rhododendrons, four boxwood shrubs, two mountain laurel trees, four yew taxis shrubs and numerous geraniums and impatiens. Nine flowerpots weighing 40 pounds each disappeared from the Polish gardens.

Because so many plants are missing, volunteers wonder if a landscaper is stealing them.

"It's not kids and it's not you and me stealing a few bushes," said Larry Hocevar, another volunteer.

The gardening groups reported the thefts to police and say they want the city to increase patrols.

"We're going to try like heck to find a solution to this," said James Glending, Cleveland's director of parks, recreation and properties. "It's pretty upsetting to me if only for the fact that I know how hard the people have been working in the gardens."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)