The Theft of Beauty

Last week in the city of Boston, a theft was committed.  No one was physically injured, and it wasn’t reported to the police.  Most would call it a victimless crime, and the perpetrator probably had good intentions.  Furthermore, even if the offender could be caught, the case would never see the inside of a courtroom, because, well. . .

This incident involves a single tulip.

Yes, that’s right.  I’m talking about a flower.  A good friend of mine was delighted when she discovered a solitary yellow tulip pop up out of nowhere in her front yard.  Clearly a leftover from a previous owner, it forced it’s way up through the soil, into the cool air of a New England spring, captured all the sunlight it could, and produced it’s single, perfect, yellow blossom.

Her surprise and delight quickly turned to a deep appreciation.  Every day, seeing that unexpected yellow flower was a gift.

Then, in it’s prime, it was cut down.  She walked out of the house one morning late last week to see nothing but a severed stem where the delicate flower had been.

Someone had come into her yard and snipped it!

I assure you, this is not a victimless crime.  A theft of beauty, even well-intentioned, is a crime against all of us!

Clematis Dr. Ruppel

At the tender age of twenty-three I found myself living in a ramshackle apartment in a not-yet hip neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts.  The house was old and drafty, there was mold on the ceiling of the bathroom, and if you didn’t twist the knobs while closing a door, they’d come clean off.

Still, I’d spent the previous year shacked-up in a single room with my recently-ex boyfriend, living out of a suitcase because there was no room for my things.  I had space now, and was determined to turn this apartment in a home.  My roommates and I painted the walls, collected the coziest free furniture we could from Craig’s List, and made the best of it.

The little flower bed at my Somerville home in 2008

When the spring rolled around, I set my sights on the outside.  My parents instilled in me a love of gardening from an early age, and the neglected jungle of my new yard offered potential limited only by my dismal bank account.  That is to say, quite limited.  Regardless, beauty is usually worth the price, so I spent a couple weeks living off ramen noodles so I could afford a trip to the nursery.


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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . . 

I prepared a little bed by the front steps and filled it with bleeding heart, columbines, lavender, thyme, and pansies.  There was a little trellis at the back where I planted a beautiful red clematis named Rebecca (by Raymond Evison not me).  She quickly became the belle of the garden, and I was so enchanted I needed another.

Dr. Ruppel in its full glory.

That’s when I met Clematis Dr. Ruppel—a beautiful violet striped variety with enormous hand-sized flowers that I planted along the chain-link fence in the front yard.  I carved out a spot in the grass, lined it with stones and covered it with mulch, and Dr. Ruppel began to weave its seductive green vines through and around the rusting metal.  In short order it was blooming, and Rebecca was eclipsed.  Dr. Ruppel greeted guests and passersby with warmth and color and even a little drama on our ramshackle street.  Everything was great until. . .

First I noticed one flower unceremoniously snipped and absent.  I shrugged it off.  Then a day later another flower went missing.  By the end of the week, my sweet Doctor was nothing but a collection of vines, and I was infuriated!

Here’s the thing.  I was happy to share these blooms with the neighborhood by planting them along the fence, but a clematis begins to wilt almost instantly after it has been cut.  Whomever took it upon themselves to clip these flowers to give to their mother, or friend, or lover, probably discovered they didn’t even survive their journey to a vase.  If only they’d been left alone, they could’ve lingered on the vine for a week or two.  What a horrible waste!

But Dr. Ruppel wasn’t just for the enjoyment of the neighborhood.  I’d planted it first and foremost for my own pleasure—for a much-needed sense of pride in my home.  Perhaps I sound like I’m being dramatic, but the loss of those flowers was awful.  I’d put an effort into improving my environment, and the selfish actions of strangers foiled it all.

Dr. Ruppel continued to bloom, both that year and the next.  I never got too attached to the flowers though.  They’d hardly open before someone would snip them again.

Dr. Ruppel holds on for dear life at the end of its first season.

It’s hard to believe that was nearly a decade ago.  I haven’t had a clematis since, but I’m really yearning for one.  My husband and I own our home now, and we’re in a nicer neighborhood, but the only place to put one would be against our front porch, which touches the sidewalk on a major road.  I’d like to think a new Dr. Ruppel could be safe here, but I hesitate. . .

“Look with your eyes, not your hands!”

I got used to hearing this phrase as a child.  Spending my summers in Wisconsin with my grandparents, my grandmother would deliver this sage advice with gusto every time we entered a store.  It didn’t matter what kind of store, and she usually followed up with “You break it, you buy it!”

Fast-forward to adulthood and I can translate this sentiment beyond fragile merchandise to the broader context of beauty and community.  It is so important to me to experience beautiful things every day; the silent collaboration and respect between neighbors each improving their individual environments elevates an entire neighborhood.  It creates character and charm.

It is enough for me to behold beauty without needing to possess it.  I can view a work by Monet without touching the paint.  I can observe a landmark without chipping off a piece to take home, or carving my name into its side.

I can lean forward, smell a tulip, and leave it be.

I wonder what would have happened if, instead of clipping Dr. Ruppel at every new blossom, everyone in my old neighborhood had planted their own. . .

When we all work together in silent collaboration we can create and appreciate an endless amount of beautiful.  It is only when we try to possess it that we rob others of the experience, and ultimately cause it to whither and die before its time.

Please share your thoughts.  Are you a victim of the theft of beauty?  Can you appreciate without the need to possess?  How have you improved your personal environment while making the world a more beautiful place?  Let me know in the comments below.

As always, thank you so much for reading.


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Rian Durant - May 15, 2017

Hi Greg!
I don’t have the time to really follow many blogs but I enjoy your every post a lot. Like you, I’m also against that crooked appreciation of beauty which equals possession. Just the other day I was thinking the same when I passed by some lilac bushes and chestnut trees because all the lower branches that could be reached were cut off. Every.Single.One. I really don’t understand that. Who entitles you to rob nature and everybody else? We all need a speck of colour and scent in the hectic city life.
I don’t even have a garden but I’m trying my best with my balcony. I’ve had some pelargoniums for a while and this year I decided to be brave and also bought some seeds. They should grow in few weeks if the weather stays warm and I got the process right.
Otherwise, I still believe the best way to take a flower home is to take a picture of it. 🙂 I’m a chronic flower stalker and if you’re curious you can see the results in my Instagram account ( That is if you have time, of course.
Let’s hope more people can understand the power of collaboration before we destroy everything.

    Gregory Josephs - May 15, 2017

    Thank you Rian! I really appreciate that you take the time to read my posts.

    I think in the end a lot of people are just short-sighted. They’re so overcome with the beauty of a flower they’d rather possess it for a few hours than have it greet them on the vine every day.

    Good luck with your balcony! I highly recommend nasturtiums. If you get the trailing ones you can have them spill over the edges, and they are very easy to grow. Plus, you can eat the leaves, which are spicy and delicious.

    I’ll check out your instagram right now! Thank you for reading!

A.S. Akkalon - May 15, 2017

People who do things like this make me angry. If it’s not yours, keep your mitts off it. I don’t care if it’s a flower or a car. Leave it alone. /endrant

    Gregory Josephs - May 15, 2017

    Lovely rant! Yes, I don’t know if I’ll ever understand why people do the things they do. Sometimes they just don’t think. The best I can do is be an example, plant more flowers, and refrain from stealing yours (or your car).

      A.S. Akkalon - May 15, 2017

      Thanks! I knew I could count on you to not steal my car.

Aimer Boyz - May 15, 2017

I’m way too lazy to be a gardener, but I enjoy the hard work of others. One of our neighbours has a great lawn this spring. Two circles of pink tulips. Lovely. I’m happy to say no one has molested them 🙂
Great last paragraph to this post, “When we try to possess beauty…” A part of me imagines that flower dying in the thief’s hand and thinks…”Serves you right.” 🙂

    Gregory Josephs - May 15, 2017

    I’m glad your neighbor’s tulips have gone unmolested; they’re around such a short time anyways, there is no reason to cut their lives even shorter.

    Thanks for liking that last paragraph. Your imagination isn’t far off. Clematis wilts seriously fast!

mumsthewordblog1 - May 16, 2017

I love walking my dog and appreciating beautiful flowers in the neighbourhood gardens. I would never dream of taking any; they are the result I’d a gardeners hard work and are there to be appreciated by all. There are some mean people in this world who think everything is theirs for the taking😡🐻

    Gregory Josephs - May 16, 2017

    Unfortunately yes. I genuinely think most of the people (or maybe it was one person over and over) that plucked Dr. Ruppel just didn’t think about the consequences of their actions.

    Someday these people will have a similar experience, and maybe it will give them pause. 😊

    Thank you for reading!

Paul Sunstone - May 20, 2017

Great post, Gregory! I so agree with you about the importance of beauty in our lives. To go without it can be demoralizing.

    Gregory Josephs - May 20, 2017

    Thank you, Paul! I try to consciously take time to appreciate something beautiful every day.

newepicauthor - May 30, 2017

What is this world coming to, do we all need to install security cameras in our gardens? What kind of person would rip flowers out of someone’s garden when they are passing by? Flowers are planted for visual enjoyment and being a part of nature they deserve respect!

    Gregory Josephs - May 30, 2017

    I know, it’s a shame this happens! Luckily it hasn’t happened to me in years, and I’m always keeping my eyes open for flower thieves in the neighborhood!

“Sorry” – A Ghost Story | Gregory Josephs - October 31, 2017

[…] Someone had loved this place once. Someone had taken pride in it. Someone had cared enough to plant these things—to put a little more beauty into the world and their environment. […]

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