SPRING HILL — Adding insult to injury, vandals recently struck the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens, which already were reeling from the recent freezing weather.
The foray on Jan. 15, the second this winter, left small statuaries smashed, a large leaded acrylic hanging cracked, a wooden bench broken, a pond liner slashed by bricks thrown into the pond and some 50 Christmas ornaments destroyed, said Jeanne Erickson, site manager for the Spring Hill Garden Club, which oversees the gardens.
A sheriff's deputy investigating the crime estimated the damage at $3,000.
The intruders also turned on sprinklers.
"We don't know how long they were turned on," Erickson said.
The water loss will add to the cost of the vandalism.
Neighbors in the 1400 block of Parker Avenue reported that, during daylight hours, they had seen youths climb the cyclone fence that surrounds the 3.5-acre property, which includes a dozen specialty and theme gardens. The fence was erected several years ago after a large statue was stolen from the botanical gardens.
Around Christmastime last year, vandals broke the wings and an arm off an angel statue and toppled a three-tier fountain, Erickson said.
The club carries only liability insurance for the gardens, so repairs and replacements must be paid for from club coffers and by donors. Many of the theme gardens have been sponsored by individuals, civic clubs and businesses.
The gardens, established in 2001 and added to yearly, are accessible from dawn to dusk daily through a main gate, which is opened and closed by a volunteer. But the free-admission gardens are not regularly staffed.
Club members are on hand at their adjoining nursery Wednesday and Saturday mornings. They tend to the botanical gardens as needed.
Garden club president Kathy Lockwood said the club is continuing to assess damage caused by the recent freezes at the botanical gardens and the nursery, where plants are sold.
Like commercial horticulturists in Hernando County, Lockwood said, the club is in a wait-and-see mode, needing time to determine which frost-damaged plants might make a comeback.
The club purchased frost-cover cloth to protect some of its nursery stock. Most fragile plants were relegated to the site's small greenhouse, but the heater "didn't keep up," Lockwood said.
The Wednesday and Saturday sales have been suspended through January.
Beth Gray can be reached at email@example.com.