$10,000 in high-priced plants pilfered from Vashon nursery

VASHON, Wash. -- Sheriff's deputies are investigating the theft of about $10,000 worth of high-priced plants and soil from a Vashon Island nursery.

An employee discovered the items missing Saturday morning, a sheriff's department spokeswoman said. The employee also noticed that several planks of an outer fence had been pulled off and that an inner wire fence had been cut.

"It's almost as if they have a shopping list and they're taking 'three of these' and 'three of these' and 'three of these' and have it all planned out," said Lance Neifert, the nursery manager. "They went after my higher-end stuff. Someone probably came in beforehand and checked out my stuff."

This is the sixth time the nursery has been hit in the past eight months, said Kathy Wheaton, who has owned the nursery for decades. This time it appears the thieves drove into an adjacent funeral home parking lot and broke into the nursery through the fence, stealing a cluster of specialty Japanese maple trees, which retail for about $100 each, in addition to large white Himalayan birch trees, five-gallon hydrangea plants, and a rare type of soil.

Because of the high-end, specialty nature of what was taken, investigators believe the thieves knew what to look for, and are likely island landscapers themselves.

"Somebody would've had to know what that soil was specifically for and then know how to plant these plants," said Sgt. Cindi West with the King County Sheriff's Office. "It's not something you could go buy at your local lumber store. I would bet those plants and that soil are still on the island somewhere and that it's somebody that knows quite a bit about landscaping."

While detectives try to crack the case, customers have been donating money to the nursery to help pay for a new fence, Neifert said. The shop is also planning to install infrared cameras.

"People still feel that Vashon's a real safe place. It has that appearance, but it's got its problems just like anywhere else," he said. "It's not a good feeling. Anytime you get broken into and get something stolen, it's not good. You feel violated."