Best-Laid Plants (Potting Shed Mystery Series #6)

Best-Laid Plants (Potting Shed Mystery Series #6)

by Marty Wingate

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A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues. 

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated.

Marty Wingate’s captivating mysteries can be enjoyed together or separately, in any order:

Praise for Marty Wingate

“Marty Wingate plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice to satisfy any hungry mystery reader.”—Mary Daheim, bestselling author of the Emma Lord series

“Pru Parke is one of my favorite cozy mystery heroines.”—Michelle’s Romantic Tangle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101968079
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/17/2017
Series: Potting Shed Mystery Series , #6
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 292
Sales rank: 43,428
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Marty Wingate is the USA Today bestselling author of the Birds of a Feather mysteries and the Potting Shed mysteries. Wingate is a regular contributor to Country Gardens and other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Birds of a Feather and Potting Shed mysteries are planned.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Pru sat at the old pine table in the kitchen at Greenoak pretending to read a magazine with as much nonchalance as she could muster. As she was alone in the house, this impressed no one. Alone, that is, except for the two fat pork chops surrounded by apple slices and nestled in a deep pan with cider poured halfway up the sides that was at that moment baking in the oven of the Aga. She would finish the dish off with a sauce—even the word “sauce” sent a thrill of fear running through her body—which she would cook at the last minute. She swallowed hard. A thin sauce—easy, quick, tasty. It’s the sort of thing that will make a big impression for little effort.

That’s what Evelyn, their cook at Greenoak, had told her before handing her an apron—“here’s your pinny”—and departing with her husband, Peachey, leaving Pru to cook and serve the first meal she’d created from start to finish all by herself. Possibly not an enormously scary event to a twenty-something entertaining a boyfriend in her first flat, but Pru had that twenty-something beat by about thirty years. High time, she had decided, to take the plunge.

Not to worry, Evelyn had said. Not a word had been spoken about Pru’s first attempt at the pork chops, which had resulted in baked shoe leather sauced with charcoal. She’d got rid of the evidence and flung wide the windows and doors before her husband, Christopher, arrived home.

Good thing Christopher had told her that morning he’d be working until past seven o’clock. Good thing and just a wee bit suspicious, as he relished the couple of hours after his work at the Romsey constabulary and before dinner. Often, he would ask Pru to take him through the garden to see the latest she and her brother, Simon, had got up to. He’d chat with Peachey, a mechanic, about old cars. He’d stroll over to the Robber Blackbird, their local pub, for a swift half pint of ale. But this day, he’d said he had an online course to finish up, and he would see Pru just before dinner. Evelyn swore that she hadn’t breathed a word about the identity of the cook for the evening, but Pru couldn’t help thinking how convenient it was that she had this time to herself to fret over the pork chops. But if he did suspect, he’d kept it to himself.

In a moment of reckless optimism, she had decided to cook a starter—almond-rolled goat’s cheese balls with roasted beetroot. She and Christopher rarely had a starter course at home, and she hoped this wouldn’t tip him off that something was amiss—that is, different—from any other evening when their meals were expertly cooked by Evelyn and left for them. Pru hoped that it would be only after the meal that she could reveal her surprise. Ta-da—your chef tonight has been . . . There was also the damson plum crumble for pudding, which—thankfully—required no more than lining up the plum halves in a dish and mixing butter into oatmeal, flour, sugar, and a bit of cinnamon. Much like mixing up a fresh batch of potting soil, Pru decided. Anyone could’ve thrown that together—why had she never done it before?

Pru, although an excellent gardener, had never been a cook. But that hadn’t fazed her husband, Christopher Pearse, in the least, not from the beginning a few years ago, when they’d met in London during a murder-for-gain case he’d investigated as detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police.

Christopher. The same moment she heard him at the door of the mudroom, Pru looked down at her pinny, smeared with purple-red beet juice and dotted with splashes of brown sizzled pork fat. Too blatant a clue, and so she whipped it off, took a frantic look round her and, at the last second, stashed it in the nearest cupboard. With the back of her hand, she pushed a slightly frizzed brown tendril off her face—hoping her dinner surprise hadn’t added another gray hair to the already alarming number that had started to appear—and met him as he stepped into the kitchen.

He kissed her and then put his nose in the air. “What’s that fantastic smell?”

She gave him a wary look—he didn’t usually talk about dinner as soon as he walked in. Did he suspect something—was it his detective nose, eyes, and brain that told him there had been a disturbance in the usual kitchen force? Or was it that he felt her nerves vibrating under his hands as he held her?

“Oh, I believe it’s baked pork chops in cider,” she replied. “And a sauce.” No sauce yet—she needed to cook it, and she certainly didn’t want to do it under his gaze. “Why don’t you go and change and find us a bottle of wine? I’ll get out the plates. We’ve a starter, too,” she added, under her breath.

He headed for their bedroom without comment and she laid the kitchen table as usual. Pru had worried that if she tried to move them to the dining room, which they never used except for company, he would surely cotton on that this would be no ordinary dinner. She’d already arranged the starter on small plates and hidden them in the pantry, where they sat next to canisters of wholemeal flour and Demerara sugar. Now she set them out, stood back to admire the table, and sighed. As much as she loved cozy meals in the kitchen at Greenoak, it came to her that really, dinner would look so much more impressive in the dining room. Perhaps Pru could tell Christopher that Evelyn had insisted on it, because . . . well, she could think of a reason before he got back down. Pru stuffed the utensils in her trouser pockets, flung the linen napkins over her shoulder, and carried the starter plates out to the dining room, keeping an eye on the goat’s cheese balls as they rolled round, gently knocking into beetroot cubes, flattening the sprigs of cress, and threatening to slide off the plates.

She found the dining table already laid with the good Staffordshire—an autumn pattern of leaves and acorns—with a low arrangement of rusty red chrysanthemums in the center and fat white candles ready to be lit. Evelyn, of course, had known all along that it would be the right place. Pru set the starter plates on the larger dinner plates and hurried back into the kitchen, the forks and knives in her pockets forgotten until they worked their way out and crashed to the floor in the front entry. She froze and listened—nothing from upstairs, so perhaps he hadn’t heard.

Back in the kitchen, she retrieved her wadded-up pinny, removed the chops from the oven, set the pan on the warming plate of the cooker, and drew out Evelyn’s note about the sauce. You can do this—I know you can, it read, and Pru’s eyes pricked with tears of gratitude at Evelyn’s confidence in her. Yes, she could do it—reduce the liquid, stir in the butter, cook until . . .

Pru had just dropped a knob of butter into the boiling cider—keep stirring, don’t let up—when Christopher pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. Pru whirled round, and as she did, let go of the wooden spoon, which hit the side of the counter before landing on the floor and skittering under the table.

“You’re awfully quick,” she said as she dropped to the floor and crawled after the spoon, bumping her head on the table as she came back out. Pru stood up, looking down at her pinny. “It’s the sauce.” She mumbled the confession. She heard a hiss and a sizzle behind her, threw the spoon into the sink, grabbed another from the crock on the counter, and went back to stirring. “I can’t let it alone—I learned that well enough.”

Bless him. He didn’t ask the obvious—“Are you cooking?”—or exclaim, “You’re cooking!” or attempt a humorous remark about wifely duties. He kept to the other side of the table and asked, “What can I do for you?”

The sauce under control, she set it on the warmer and faced him. “I’m all right now. We’re eating in the dining room—I think Evelyn wanted it to be special.”

“Shall I open the wine?”

“Oh God, yes.”

The starter was quite good. She’d been afraid she hadn’t roasted the cubes of beetroot enough, but they were fine—soft on the inside with crisp corners.

Pru relaxed as soon as she saw Christopher begin on the pork—she knew when he ate food out of politeness and when he enjoyed it. And, she had to admit, the chops were quite fine. She’d done it. She’d even been able to find sweet potatoes in the market—not exactly a staple on the British table as they were in Texas where she grew up, but she had sought them out because they made the perfect accompaniment to an autumn meal.

When Christopher picked up the pork chop bone and asked permission to use his fingers—“You don’t mind, do you? I wouldn’t want to leave any behind”—she counted her first cooked meal a success. At least, it was the first one that she had cooked and also eaten.

“I hope you’re pleased,” he said at last, “because I am.”

“Pfft,” Pru said, waving her hand, but blushing deep red. “Evelyn is an amazing teacher—I couldn’t’ve done it without her. Still, it’s good to get over this first hurdle. And it really was fun. Sort of.”

They took their damson crumble with cream—Pru hadn’t any desire to cook up a custard sauce, even if it did come out of a package—into the library and opened the terrace door to let the last of the light and a bit of evening air in.

“I’ve had a letter today,” Pru said.

She retrieved the correspondence from the library table and handed it over. Christopher patted his pockets until Pru reached behind them to the sofa table and handed him reading glasses.

“Upper Oddington. That brings back a few memories,” he said when he’d finished. He took off the glasses and watched her with those penetrating brown eyes he had—one of the first things she had noticed about him. She knew the letter’s mention of Grenadine Hall had sparked his memories of the autumn fête that they had both attended three years earlier.

“I can still see you standing at the Badger Care stall,” she said.

“And I can see you walking across the field—I couldn’t keep my eyes off you.”

She could well remember that moment. They fell into one of those lovely “Do you remember the first time we met?” conversations. Although, the annual autumn fête at Grenadine Hall had not been their first meeting—they were in the middle of a murder investigation at that point. It was, however, the first time they each had acknowledged—at least to themselves—that there might be more to this than detective and witness.

They hadn’t expected to meet in the Cotswolds. Pru had gone with her friend Jo Howard—along with Jo’s daughter, Cordelia, and her partner, Lucy—for the weekend and the fête and then there he was, Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse. And, with only a stumbling block or two, that was that.

As the conversation progressed, Pru and Christopher cuddled up on the sofa, his arms round her and her hand resting on his chest.

“You walked out on me Sunday lunch at the Horse & Groom,” Christopher said. “I was left with two meals.”

“You accused me of obstructing your investigation,” Pru replied. “That set me off. But, you were right, of course.”

They were quiet for a moment, and through the open door, Pru heard a blackbird begin its evening song.

“Do you know this garden?” Christopher asked.

Pru nodded. “Glebe House. I’ve done a bit of research this afternoon. It’s in this book about Arts and Crafts gardens”—she’d marked several pages in a slim volume she’d left on the coffee table—“and there he is, Batsford Bede—he’s the owner and designer. The place was written up in Gardens Illustrated and The Telegraph—but there’s been no mention of it in the past ten or twelve years. An Arts and Crafts garden.” Pru repeated the phrase in a reverential tone. It might possibly be her favorite style. In architecture and interiors, it meant careful attention to detail, handmade items that were both useful and beautiful. The style’s interpretation in the landscape came out as intimate spaces round the house, even rather formal, with one place leading to another, so that within the garden as a whole lay many smaller gardens—“rooms,” as they were called. That lovely, honey-colored Cotswold stone and the views of hills, fields, and the escarpment. She sighed, thinking of Hidcote Manor and Rodmarton Manor, two of many fine examples. The concentration of Arts and Crafts houses and gardens in the Cotswolds was because the leader of the movement—William Morris—had loved the area and took a house in Gloucestershire.

“You’ve made quite a name for yourself.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Pru said, shaking her head. But she was chuffed, no denying it. To be asked to consult on such a project at a well-respected garden—well, wasn’t this why she’d come to England in the first place?

“What do you think of her offer?”

But Coral Summersun’s condescending tone—all those things you gardeners do—had not escaped Pru’s eye. “Well, she’s no gardener, that’s obvious. And it’s odd that, if she knows Natalie and John, she didn’t ask Oliver to help out—he knows a great deal, too—he’d be quite capable. And he’s right nearby.” Oliver had given Pru a tour of the grounds at Grenadine Hall on her one visit, and they’d had a good garden chat.

“She isn’t in possession of the place yet?”

“Doesn’t sound like it,” Pru replied. “But Batsford Bede must be in his eighties by now and from what the letter says, in poor health. Maybe she’ll want to sell up when she inherits and so wants to get the gardens in order.”

“She’d like you there quite soon,” Christopher said. “And if we time it just right, we’d be there for the fête.”

Pru saw that ghost of a smile around his mouth and she traced his lips with a fingertip.

“Fancy a little holiday, Inspector?”

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Best-Laid Plants 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
GratefulGrandma More than 1 year ago
The sixth book in this cozy mystery continues with the story of Pru Parke, an American gardening expert who has settled in England, restoring historic gardens and solving mysteries she comes across. In this book, Pru is asked to go to the Cotswolds (where she and Christopher's relationship began) to consult on the restoration of an Arts and Crafts style garden. Pru and her husband have friends there so they decided to take a vacation at the same time. When they arrive at the estate, they find out that the owner is very ill, but he wants Pru to read his journals that he recorded in as he originally designed the gardens. Within the first couple of days there, Pru finds the estate owner, Batsford Bede, dead in the garden. His death is suspicious and Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse is asked to head the inquiry.  I do enjoy when Pru and Christopher work together. I like Pru, she is a 50ish, usually strong and smart female character. Christopher, her husband, is a former Detective Chief Inspector who often works with other police forces. He trusts Pru's instincts and takes her concerns and feelings seriously. Pru was somewhat more scattered than normal in this story, almost like she was in the first book. The secondary characters were quite interesting and just a bit quirky. They all had an opinion of who the murderer was and who it wasn't. Once again, there are a lot of gardening facts told in a journal format at the beginning of each paragraph. An interesting cozy that I enjoyed. I am looking forward to the next book in this series.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
This is a fine. comfy mystery series. Good characters and plot twists. I particularly enjoyed the idea of reclaiming an abandoned historic garden. The gardening details are there so you believe her credentials, but not enough to bog down the story line. I will continue to watch for further offerings.
citrus_sunshine More than 1 year ago
I got a free copy of this book through Net Galley in exchange for a free review. I really enjoyed this one! Pru and Christopher are a lovely married couple. They love each other, but it doesn't have to be over emphasized. I love cozy mysteries, but don't really like too much romance. This book had the right mix. There were several characters that I didn't like at first. I warmed up to them and found this to be a strength in the book. The town is full of quirky people that really made me fall in love with it. A pet fox, a life coach that makes weird jelly, a B&B with odd wiring and an owner that can't cook are just a few. I am not a gardener at all, but the plants and garden discussions did not distract from the story as a whole. I got a good idea of what the gardens looked like and the particularly lovely spots. However for those who enjoy gardening, I'm sure you will get a more vivid picture. I figured out who the murder was a little over halfway through. It was not obvious at first, but there were enough clues to figure it out before Pru. Again a good mix. There is enough mystery and enough romance and enough quirks and enough clues to make for a really enjoyable book.
TheGrumpyBookReviewer More than 1 year ago
I read the uncorrected proof copy of I read this uncorrected proof copy of Marty Wingate's Best Laid Plants, and didn't want it to end. This is another cozy mystery I couldn't put down. Not only did Best Laid Plants have a good mystery, it had provided a treasure trove of both common plant names and their botanical names. While I usually highlight grammatical and punctuation errors in books I review, I found myself highlighting plant names and interesting tidbits about the plants. Set in England, Pru Parke, gardener extraordinaire, is hired to refurbish the famous gardens at Glebe House in the Cotswolds. The elderly magistrate, Batsford Bede, is murdered, and soon almost everyone around him is a suspect. Someone wants to buy a large wildflower meadow and develop it with estate-sized homes. What the culprit doesn't know is that there is a covenant on the land, and it can never be developed, no matter who owns it. Why would someone kill this old man who is near death already? It's a great mystery with a lot of people looking guilty. I do wish the police had informed the person arrested about the covenant -- the murder, the blackmail, the intrigue were all for nothing. Best Laid Plants is #6 in the Potting Shed Mystery Series, and will be available October 17, 2017. It's available for pre-order now. There were a lot of British English words used that this American English speaker did not understand. Some of them were self-explanatory in context, but some were not. Because Pru was a Texan living in England, she could have found a way to explain some the "English" words she used. What Makes This Book Reviewer Grumpy? For an uncorrected proof copy, this is not bad at all. I'm impressed! The only errors I found were: using "spoonfuls" instead of "spoonful", when "Pru watched as Coral dumped heaping spoonfuls..." (Loc 622); using of "that" instead of "who" , when the narrator said, "Of the other two people that had lined up at the police..." (Loc 1485); and a split infinitive, when the narrator said, "...they would not be able to blithely leave behind a..."
K_Kendler More than 1 year ago
This is the first Mary Wingate book I have read. There are plenty of gardening terms and species names I did not recognize. This did not really matter but did not do much to enhance the setting. I just substitute pretty flowers for all the descriptions by species names. There were a lot of British words used that this American English speaker did not understand. Some of them were self-explanatory in context, but some were not. I found this odd as Pru is a Texan living in England. The author could have explained things in American as she lives in Seattle and her heroine is Texan. I found myself looking up many words which educated me but detracted from the story. Pru and Christopher are semi-newlyweds- three years and not in their 20s, more like in their 50s. Pru is a well known gardener and is hired to provide guidance on the restoration of an Arts and Crafts garden in the Cotswalds. Christopher was a detective. Pru finds the body of the current owner in the garden. Thus begins the investigation of the crime. This book can be enjoyed as a standalone story. Although I enjoyed the book, I found it ironic that some of the revelations had they been known by the murderer would have led to a totally different outcome of the story. Netgalley and the publisher allowed me to read an Advanced Reader’s Copy. These are my own unsolicited opinions.
KathleenC55 More than 1 year ago
“Best Laid Plants” earns 5+/5 Gardens of Flowers, Herbs, and…Fun! Although Mary Wingate’s Potting Shed Mystery series has received well-deserved rave reviews, I am a newbie starting with book six, cleverly titled “Best Laid Plants,” and after only a few pages, I am now a big ‘fan.’ Mary Wingate has penned a well-written mystery with descriptions creating delightful mental pictures, intriguing dialog, and lots of possible conclusions that I couldn’t put down. Don’t overlook the way she begins each chapter with a poignant phrase from what was suspected and turned out to be the victim’s journals that were more a memoir than gardening diary of tips and plant descriptions. Right off Mary illustrates the wonderful relationship between ex-pat, Texas native Prudence Parke and her husband former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse revisiting in passing the fact that the two met over a murder investigation, calls attention to Pru’s limited cooking skills, and introduces the new gardening project that would be combined with a bit of a ‘getaway.’ Wrap all that into an informative myriad of gardening ideas and details of the local flora, descriptions of local homes and stately manors, setting in my favorite Cotswolds along a few hiccups like a woman from Christopher’s past, quirky villagers, and a dead body in the garden? Just the right recipe for the most engaging ‘cozy’ story for fans and newbies alike. "Disclosure: A review copy of this book was selected by me from NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.”
Sue_H More than 1 year ago
Best-Laid Plants is the sixth book in the Potting Shed Mystery series. This is a wonderfully written cozy mystery. Even though this is part of a series, this is a standalone with no cliffhanger. I really enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down. There is some violence, this is a cozy mystery after all. The book blurb adequately describes the storyline so I'm not going to repeat all of that info here. The author did a great job of explaining about the Arts and Crafts garden as well as the plants in it. There is a lot of history between characters in the storyline that keep you guessing what twists and turns will be revealed next. It definitely kept me reading. I look forward to reading more of Marty Wingate's books. I received copy of this book from NetGalley and chose to leave a review for other readers.
BeagleGirl123 More than 1 year ago
Pru Parke and her husband, former Detective Inspector Christopher Pearse, have returned to the Cotswolds after Pru is asked to help return a very well-known Arts & Crafts garden back to its former glory.. The garden's elderly owner and designer, Batsford Bede, is unwell and before Pru can even meet him he's found murdered in one of his gardens! Red herrings abound in this well-crafted cozy. Eccentric characters, suspects and motives are everywhere, and although I had an inkling who the murderer might be it wasn't confirmed until the end when Pru realized it herself. That's one of the things that Ms. Wingate does best - keeps the reader guessing right up until the end! I love the Potting Shed mysteries, and would recommend this book, and the previous 5 books in the series, to anyone looking for a pleasant mystery to enjoy. Best-Laid Plants by author Marty Wingate is a true cozy in every sense of the word! A+