Thursday, May 30, 2013


The area behind my vegetable garden.
                 Gardening is . . .an outlet for fanaticism, violence, love and
                 rationality without their worst side effects.  – Geoffrey Charlesworth

On Valentine’s Day or anniversaries, lovers and spouses send roses to their loved ones to show their love. Young girls pluck petals from daisies saying “He loves me, he loves me not” to see if the object of their affection feels the same way. Who among us doesn’t feel some pleasure in seeing flowers in bloom? I love gardens, plants and flowers. A highlight for me on every vacation is taking a tour of at least one garden if not more. So feeling this way about gardens it’s understandable that my mystery series has a gardening theme. But why did the first murder in my first book, THE BLUE ROSE, happen in a peaceful tranquil garden? It’s almost blasphemous.

A rose and delphiniums in one of my many gardens.
We think of the garden as a place of peace, tranquility and rejuvenation, but all is not as it seems. Roses have their thorns, as I well know when last week I was pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow causing it to swerve a little and my hand got pierced by a wicked thorn. It hit a vein and bled quite profusely. Poison Ivy has been known to creep into areas hiding among the weeds where it never was before. Poisonous plants abound – not a problem for those of us who recognize them and aren’t in the habit of munching on what is not known to be edible.  But if one is a mystery writer, such plants are fodder for the mind if not the palate. There’s monkshood, foxgloves, daffodils, morning glories and lily-of-the-valley to name just a few.

Still although these plants put ideas in my head for plots, it’s other things that anger and frustrate me and put murderous thoughts in my head. I get these murderous thoughts when a groundhog or rabbit sneaks under the vegetable garden fence and munches down a whole row of beans, lettuce or sunflowers just starting to grow. I’ve given up growing sweet corn because just as it starts to ripen,  raccoons come over the fence and get to it first. And often when I plant anything new, I may find the new plants uprooted and drying out at a later time from skunks that dig them out looking to find grubs or earthworms under them, and squirrels and chipmunks are known to eat tulip bulbs.

My motley crew of mostly old hens who still lay eggs.
That’s the furry critters that cause aggravation. Birds can put holes in the ripe strawberries and eat my blueberries, too, but not enough to do much damage. But the tiny critters are another story. I hate, hate, hate slugs and Japanese beetles. They damage the leaves and flowers of plants. I used to murder slugs with salt. Now when I find them I drop them into the weed bucket for the hens or scoop them onto a trowel and take them to the chicken run and feed it to my hens. With Japanese beetles, I prowl the garden twice a day with a jar of water visiting the plants they like best; roses, beans and the Harry Lauder Walking Stick shrubs. I hold the jar with water – I used to add vinegar to it, but don’t bother with that anymore – under the spot with the beetle or beetles mating, and knock them into the water where they swim about clinging to other beetles unable to fly. At the end of each foray, I feed them to my chickens, too.  There’s only one other insect I really hate and that’s the deer flies. At least they don’t harm my plants, but they sure make life miserable for me in the garden. They’re much worse than mosquitoes. The fish and frogs in my little goldfish pool seem to take care of most of the mosquitoes.

A bird house that currently has a chickadee nesting in it. 

And that’s why I don’t find it totally incongruous to plant a murder in a lovely garden. After all, evil can lurk anywhere. Maybe the incongruity of a scene where murder doesn’t seem likely is like a person who doesn’t seem like someone who would murder. The incongruity is often what creates a good mystery.

What brings murderous thoughts to you?

Where would you best like to see a murder take place?


  1. Right now I'm having mixed feelings about the pileated woodpeckers who seem to have settled somewhere in the woods behind the house, although I haven't seen the nest. They are impressive birds, and as long as they keep their hole-drilling activities away from the live trees (and the house siding) I enjoy them, but I've chased one away from our shed a few times.

    There is a pair of eagles who we see sometimes, and a pair of hawks nested for a few years downhill from my brother's house, so you could look right down into their nest from his deck. The do a number on the smaller birds and the little rodents. And the cats have learned to be cautious.

    Same thing for a different reason with the owls. I love watchng them, but the duckling population suffers badly. And they call all night--"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

  2. Gloria,

    The garden is a microcosm of life’s struggles. Plants compete for light. Animals eat leaves. Plants and gardeners fight back against the animals using various strategies.

    Humans may construct paths and water fountains and flower beds to promote tranquility, but underneath it all is the life and death struggle for existence. So why not a murder?


    Pileated woodpeckers rarely attack trees that are not already infested (often with carpenter ants). Standing under one while it's working is a hard-hat zone!

    Your owls are barred owls. If you lived in the South, they would say, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y'all?"

    At our place in the woods, we had to remind our cats that they were in the middle of the food chain (owls, coyotes, wolves, bobcat, etc.) and keep their excursions confined to daylight.

    ~ Jim

  3. My screen porch is the venue of my murder. I sit there to read at night. With the light behind me, the stinkbugs are attracted to it, their armored body striking the house's siding and clanking. Drives me bats, and I'm obsessed with murder. Some nights I've killed as many as six. I feel as if I'm being attacked. Not a very relaxing place to read, and when I can't read, I'm frustrated, and when I'm frustrated--I kill the buggers.

    An article in the paper said that their numbers were increasing because they found places to overwinter rather than dying as they rightly should! The older generation lives to reproduce again.

    So, I'm plotting and planning. I have motive and license. I went to Home Depot yesterday to get the means. I'm ready to exterminate.

    But really--it's self-defense.

  4. Thank you, Paula. Of course, I carefully picked pictures that showed as little of the unruly wildness of my garden as possible. :-)

    KM, I have pileated woodpeckers in my woods,too, but it's the dead or diseased trees they attack and never come near my home. I also have red-tailed hawks and like to see them gliding over the pasture and open spaces. Their main food is mice and voles so I never worry about them. I also have barred owls, but I don't hear them at night near my house very often, and my old barn cat, a stray that came about 5 or 6 years ago, even though she's a hunter, seems to have avoided all predators.

    E.B. if I have stink bugs, there's not a lot of them, but then I don't sit outside at night since I don't have a screened porch, but I've never noticed them when camping, either, when we sit around a campfire at night. When I'm reading in bed at night in June, the huge June bugs or beetles hit my window screens with loud whacks, but they don't bother me. But I have heard the stink bugs are multiplying so good luck in your murderous intentions.

  5. Jim, I agree with you so I tend to the live and let live to some extent. I do worry about the Emerald Ash Borer because I have a lot of ash trees about, but now that I think of it, maybe that's the reason it seems that there are more ash seedlings and young trees popping up everywhere in my gardens and wilder spaces than ever. Could it be a defense against the borers even though to my knowledge they haven't yet arrived in my area?

    And as for the predators, I welcome them, because I know they help keep down the over population of rodents. I wasn't happy about the mink that managed to get into my chicken coop one winter and kill some of my hens, but once I figured out what it was, I took lined the lower fencing with fencing with smaller holes making it mink proof. I did not call a trapper to trap it.

  6. Today I'm having murderous thoughts about squirrels--cute but destructive little monsters. They keep digging holes in the front yard but leaving our neighbor's yard untouched. I've tried all sorts of things like coyote urine but they keep returning. It's becoming personal.

  7. Squirrels eat growing tomatoes and chew through the roof to make nests in the attic. Don't let the fuzzy tails fool you. They are rodents.

  8. Kara, I get annoyed with squirrels and chipmunks, too, but mostly because the empty the bird feeders. I tried a squirrel proof one, but it didn't last long.

    Warren, I've never had them eat my tomatoes,but I did have a small red squirrel living between my library ceiling and my bedroom floor for several years. I had no idea where it was getting in or how to catch it, but when I found a nut under my pillow, then much as I hated doing it to the little fellow, I put out D-con in the attic. End of squirrel.

  9. Great pictures and blog, Gloria!

    KM, woodpeckers only go after trees that are infested--and if they're going after your shed, you might want to have it checked for carpenter ants or termites.

    Jim's right about the constant struggle for survival that goes on underneath the placid scene. I like to stay out of it as much as I can. I keep my dog and cat inside unless I'm with them and they're leashed. But sometimes animals step over the line, like the squirrel in your ceiling, Gloria, and then I have to act. I am a part of that constant struggle for survival, too, after all. :-)

  10. Linda, I'm lucky I don't have to keep my dog on a leash. She's free to wander on our walks in the woods and generally stays close when I'm working in the garden. She doesn't go near the road. Of course, I don't leave her outside for long periods if I'm in the house and she's always in the house if I go away. My house cats never go out. My two barn cats are something else. I feed and water them, but other than that, they have to fend for themselves. It might be why I don't have a major chipmunk problem.

  11. Gloria, I live int he heart of an big urban area, so none of my animals goes out without a leash. There are feral cats in our neighborhood--people dump them in the vacant lot across the street--but they kill mostly songbirds because they're easier, I'm afraid. I don't feed birds anymore because I don't want to lure them to the cats, but I have very bird-friendly gardens, so alas, the deaths continue. We've tried to trap the cats for neutering and spaying purposes, but they're too wily.

    I don't mind the hawks, though. They seem to prefer rodents, and that's fine by me.

  12. Gloria - what a lovely garden you have - wonderful pictures!
    Any cicadas down there? They are emerging in my area - thankfully not near my house, but a few miles away they are making people crazy with their non-stop, infernal buzzing. One friend said it sounds like the Mothership has landed behind her house.

  13. Our extension agent tells us that while the woodpeckers will concentrate on the trees (often dead or in decline) with insect infestations, they will use other surfaces (usually with a wood base) for drumming to signal one another if they like the sound they get. At times, that is our siding.

    One of the major advantages of letting the dogs run a bit is that they make the deer more cautious and help keep them away from the house. I never even try tulips anymore, and I often end up with healthy daylily plants with impressive flower stalks but the buds all bitten off.

  14. KM,

    You're right that woodpeckers will find resonant surfaces for drumming. They like tin a lot!

    Years ago I had tulips along a stone wall and each year the tulips would bloom and the next day the stalks were blossomless. I blamed the deer until the evening I watched a woodchuck waddled over the first stalk, bringing the blossom toward the ground (and its mouth). It chomped on the flower, walked forward leaving a twanging stalk in its wake.

    I apologized to the deer for my false accusations.

    ~ Jim

  15. Wow, some of you were up early this morning. :-)

    Linda,I get the occasional stray like my two barn cats, but not as many as you have. There's a feral colony of cats somewhere near S.F. that people feed. Unfortunately, they have almost decimated all shore birds in the area. Right now I put tall fencing around my bird feeders to keep the newest cat from getting at the birds, but they don't seem to be coming as often. Maybe because they can still see her watching and waiting.

  16. Shari, any cicadas or locusts come later in the summer up here. I rather enjoy the sound although for us up here it means summer is at least half over. So far we haven't had a mass invasion, but I know not too far from us a few years ago they had something like what you're describing.

  17. KM and Jim, fortunately although I have deer in my woods and they come out around the pond, except for some winters, they don't come much closer. When they do, it's usually for the apples still left on the trees closer to my house and they have eaten the buds from the rhododendrons further from my house on occasion.

    As for groundhogs, they can be a major problem. They've hollowed out tunnels under both my barn lean-to with a cement floor and the garage also with a cement floor, plus they live in an unpaved back stall with a dirt floor in my old barn.