Book in a garden

April Showers Bring Gardens of Mystery

Spring at last, and the garden beckons. Whether it be an elaborately landscaped royal garden, think of the knot gardens favored by Elizabeth I, or a humble suburban yard like mine, the garden is a refuge for relaxation and enjoyment of nature. The work of spring, digging and planting and weeding, is rewarded with summer siestas in a shady spot, a cup of tea and a good book close to hand.

But ever since the first serpent slithered into the Garden of Eden writers have also imagined the garden as the scene of temptation and evil. Mystery authors find plenty of inspiration in the garden. There’s death amid the dahlias, poisonous flowers plucked with murderous intent, evildoers lurking in the shrubbery, and the odd corpse or two nestled in the herbaceous border. Especially in English gardens of course. 

So when you’re ready to toss your trowel and take a break from garden toil relax with one of these garden mysteries:

The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards is set in the beautiful English Lake District. DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case unit, teams up with local historian Daniel Kind to review the unsolved murder of Warren Howe. He was killed with his own scythe as he worked in a client’s garden in the picturesque village of Old Sawrey. Warren’s former business partner, garden designer Peter Flint, helps in the investigation. Meanwhile Daniel has been puzzling over the origins of the strange garden at his own cottage. Could it be linked with the murder case? There will be another shocking death before Hannah and Daniel expose the murderer. 

In Flowers and Foul Play by Amanda Flower florist Fiona Knox stumbles on a body in the garden of the cottage she has just inherited from her uncle. Fiona’s life is in disarray when she learns of the bequest, so she doesn’t hesitate to fly immediately to Scotland. Once in Dungreigan she finds her new life involves a murder mystery and a magical garden. The victim was her uncle’s lawyer and the prime suspect is the caretaker, elderly Hamish MacGregor. (Yes, I immediately thought of Mr. McGregor’s garden). The local village turns out to be full of possible suspects and Fiona decides to help clear MacGregor’s name. The plot involves environmentalists who oppose a real estate project, buried treasure from a shipwreck, and a minister with a personal vendetta against Fiona’s family. Expect some magic to play a part, this is the first in the Magic Garden Mystery series.

In The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton there is no dead body but plenty of mystery. In 1913 a little girl is abandoned on a ship sailing from England to Australia, the only clue to her identity a book of fairytales in her suitcase. Adopted by an Australian couple who eventually tell her the truth about her past, Nell goes to England in search of her birth family. But it is her granddaughter Cassandra who will eventually discover the whole truth. A mansion in Cornwall, a Victorian fairytale author, a family scandal, and a secret garden all feature in this multi-generational story perfect for fans of Daphne du Maurier.

Author Anthony Eglin’s gardening credentials are impeccable. In 1995 he won Garden Design magazine’s Golden Trowel Award for the Best Rose Garden. In Garden of Secrets Past a murder at Sturminster Hall is linked to an ancient inscription on a monument in the garden which may be a clue to a lost fortune. Is the enigmatic note found on the victim a key to deciphering the inscription at last? Retired botany professor Lawrence Kingston investigates, finding himself in danger as another murder occurs and dark secrets from the past surface. What do three famous 18th century Englishmen have to do with the case? Fans of historical mysteries will find plenty to enjoy and you can put your own codebreaking skills to the test.

Amanda Carmack’s Murder in the Queen’s Garden is set in Elizabethan England in 1559 when the young Elizabeth I is at the beginning of her long reign. Already she is menaced by assassination plots, but it is astrologers whose lives are in danger in this mystery. The historical character Dr. John Dee, an alchemist, mathematician, and astrologer who gained the Queen’s favor, plays a central role. When Elizabeth attends a summer party at Nonsuch Palace a skeleton is discovered in the garden. It is presumed to be Dr. Timothy Macey, Henry VIII’s astrologer, who disappeared from the palace in 1541. When one of Dr. Dee’s students is also found murdered the great doctor himself falls under suspicion. Elizabeth entrusts her personal musician Kate Haywood with investigating the murders and clearing Dr. Dee’s name. The background of Elizabethan obsession with astrology makes for a compelling read.

If you are looking for help with actual gardening browse the shelves in Dewey Decimal number 635 at your library, or 712 for landscaping. To become a true expert The Great Courses Library Collection includes two gardening courses in the category Hobby and Leisure. The Master Gardeners of The University of Maryland Extension hold plant clinics in several libraries. Check the Calendar of Events for details.

For armchair gardeners who just want to dream, visit the website of the UK National Trust, Our Most Famous Gardens. The site is beautifully designed and full of wonderful photographs.

Now retired after 29 years at MCPL, Rita Tull was a founding member of our blogging team and known for creating the extremely popular Readers’ Cafe. We are excited to feature Rita’s whimsical musings on literature and libraries as a guest writer for our newly formed MCPL blog!