Gardening Can Be Murder by Marta McDowell

  • Post published:09/24/2023
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Gardening Can Be Murder by Marta McDowell

I am a reader, and a gardener. During the day I have jobs to do, but I always have some time to read when dinner and the news is over. Recently I have been reading Gardening Can Be Murder – How Poisonous Poppies, Sinister Shovels, and Grim Gardens Have Inspired Mystery Writers. This is an amazing book, fascinating, thrilling – and I’ve often met some mysterious characters who surprised me.

Poisoned Pen – and Trowel

I am enjoying the way the book is organized. First we have Gardening Detectives: from Classic to Contemporary. Wilkie Collins “introduced the first horticulturally inclined investigator” who wrote The Moonstone in 1868. Collins enjoyed the annual city floral exhibition and created Sergeant Cuff, an inspector.

Agatha Christie has written many books. One of her characters is Miss Jane Marple, who has given us many murder stories in all kinds of books like Murder at the Vicarage, The Pocket Full of Rye, and Sad Cypress, as well as movies, and TV shows. I can’t quite count them all but I know there are many ways that there are people who find plants for medicine – or death.

Brother Cadfael, a creation of Ellis Peters, is another fascinating person who knows how to discover the mysteries. He is a twelfth-century Welsh monk who is needed to find the important medicines from the medicinal garden. There are medicines, but there are also poisons. Cadfael must be careful.


Orchids seem to be so important and delicate that there are any number of orchids that are in danger. Susan Orlean gave us The Orchid Thief; James Hadley Chase offered No Orchids for Miss Blandish; and Raymond Chandler offered The Big Sleep.  Nero Wolfe has written many stories that include orchids. There are 15 orchid varieties in his first novel, Fer-de-Lance, and twenty-two in Murder by the Book, and that was just the beginning.

Over the years I have met mystery novels written by many authors from Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes. Others include Tony Hillerman, Elizabeth George, Rosemary Harris, Ruth Rendell, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Eudora Welty and many more writers who often spent as much time with their flowers as with murder.

Near the end of the book there is a group of Mystery Writers and Their Gardens. Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on the Fourth of July 1804, grew up to go to college, decided not to be a minister, and then wrote Twice-Told Tales in 1837 and began writing other books including The Scarlet Letter. Needless to say Agatha Christie wrote many mysteries, Rex Stout wrote many Nero Wolf stories, and his sister Ruth Stout is known for being the Mother of Mulch. I have not been able to talk about all the books written, but I am continuing to read the mysteries.  The book is available at Timber Press.

We have come up to THE END – almost.  I am offering a comment from McDowell.  “Writing murder            mysteries is a bit like working in the garden: they start with tangled chaos and end, at least for a moment, in an ordered universe. And while the butler may have done it, I’m happy to say that, at least in fiction, the gardener rarely has.” 

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