No sooner would Alan Batson plant a begonia or an impatiens in front of his Dupont Circle Victorian row house than it would disappear.
His neighbors on the 2000 block of Hillyer Place NW were suffering the same horticultural heists. And the thefts did not occur just once or twice. Some residents had up to $300 worth of flowers snatched out of their gardens in dozens of thefts since March.
After several fruitless calls to police, Batson said he videotaped his plants being purloined. In July, he handed the tape over to police. One officer told him he knew who the flower-napper was, Batson said. But no arrests have been made.
"It's weird. You feel like you can't have anything nice," said Batson, whose plants were plucked about nine times. "It wouldn't be bad if it was once. It's just a constant violation."
The floral crime wave is under investigation, said 3rd District Lt. Essray Taliaferro. Police viewed the tape, but the footage was not clear enough to identify the suspect, Taliaferro said.
"A rookie officer said he knew the guy," Taliaferro said. "But he wasn't sure. That kind of got the ball rolling in the wrong direction."
Police held a stakeout on the block for about two weeks in August, putting out plants donated by a concerned florist and watching to see if they would be taken, Taliaferro said.
"We were out there on the midnight tour watching for someone stealing plants," Taliaferro said. "Mind you, we have other priorities. But we said we are going to look into this."
They came up with nothing. Although one resident said some flowers were stolen while the police were there, police said they didn't see any plants being taken.
"This isn't something that we just take lightly or are just going to blow off," said Assistant Chief William McManus.
This isn't the first time that flowers have been snatched from gardens in the District. When McManus was running the 1st Police District substation two years ago, residents complained about people stealing bulbs and shrubbery. Suspects were eventually arrested.
"I personally never laughed," McManus said. "It wasn't something that amused me. We don't turn a blind eye to it."
Plant lovers and horticulture experts said the thief may be reselling the flowers at weekend markets. Residents said the flowers are usually plucked late in the week.
The thief is probably not getting rich, said Jim Ford, a manager at American Plant Food Co. in Bethesda.
The nicked flowers are common. They range in price from 99 cents to $30.
"It's probably a desperate man's caper," Ford said.
Paula Waldron, the horticultural librarian at Brookside Garden in Wheaton, said: "Some people will take anything. Some of our herbs have been clipped. My feeling is a theft is a theft, and it's wrong no matter what happens."
But in a city where homicides and rape cases remain unsolved, residents of Hillyer Place said they were worried that their loss would not be taken seriously.
"I know in the grand scheme of things this is not a big deal," said Steve Richards, whose plants have been torn out of the earth about six times. "But it's been so repetitive, and they are getting away with it."
But Richards, Batson and their neighbors just keep replanting. The begonia cannot be defeated.