Cruel and Unusual Gardening or How to Threaten Your Plants into Flourishing

The first Terry Pratchett novel I read was ‘Good Omens’ – the book about the Apocalypse, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman. I was very taken with the way the demon Crowley kept his indoor plants healthy and flourishing. He threatened them!good omens

Any plant that failed to thrive would be shown to all the others as an awful warning and taken out of the house. An hour or so later Crowley would return with an empty flower pot that would be left prominently on show.  As the book says, ‘The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. And the most terrified.’

Not having demonic powers I can’t claim that my house plants are fabulous but they do live under threat. When they’re planted, fed or watered – or more often when the dead leaves are picked off – I have a mantra that I use. It’s not quite like Prince Charles chatting fondly to his plants, it chimes better with the title of this post – cruel and unusual gardening. This is what I say to the cowering greenery in the conservatory and the few hardy survivors in the rest of the house: ‘You live, you die. Your choice.’



About fourteen years ago I gave a friend an orchid for her birthday and then decided I’d like one as well. Sadly, Jill’s orchid didn’t survive but mine – a victim of neglect and vicious slurs on its abilities – has flourished. This year it went overboard and produced SIX flower spikes. I’ve patted it on the head and suggested that next year seven spikes would be a good thing. (See picture above)

The other spectacular success resulting from my systematic unkindness to dumb horticulture is what used to be known as a Kaffir Lily and is now called a Clivia. My father-in-law had two of these lilies and they were his pride and joy so when he died my sister-in-law and I each took one home. Ruth is a much more caring and competent gardener than I am but although her lily survived, it didn’t flower. Mine, responding in abject terror, began to send out plantlets like anything, along with spectacular bursts of long-lasting orange flowers. I now have about fourteen of the things which undeservedly make the conservatory look as though I actually do some work with the plants. (The secret of the lilies is that they shouldn’t be overwatered – though chance would be a fine thing for any of my house-plants.)


My Victorian heroine, Charlotte Richmond, is mildly interested in plants but coming from Australia, pleads ignorance of English varieties – which is convenient for me. My contemporary sleuth, Harriet Quigley, is more of a gardener and is more like me in that she likes designing and planting but can’t be doing with the grunt labour. She is another one who uses the Cruel and Unusual Gardening technique and her garden is flourishing.


And now for the commercial – THE DEADLY DAMES ride again!



Portsmouth Central Library: World Book Night Eve Friday 22nd April


Portsmouth Central Library is holding a Crime Fiction Quiz and panel event with The Deadly Dames to celebrate on the eve of WBN. It’s on Friday 22nd April, 6.30pm at Central Library.  Tickets are £2 per person (pay on the door).Maximum number permitted in a team is eight but participation in the Quiz is not compulsory – you can just enjoy listening to The Deadly Dames if you prefer! Soft drinks and snacks will be provided, but feel free to bring a bottle.

The Deadly Dames are Charlie Cochrane, Joan Moules, Nicola Slade, Eileen Robertson and Carol Westron, a panel of crime writers who bring their own humorous slant to books, writing, research and crime, past and present. The panel event will consist of a discussion about these topics and others and there will be plenty of time for audience questions.

(For this event, The Deadly Dames will be joined by guest author Christine Hammacott, whose début novel is set in Portsmouth.) Details from your local library or contact by Monday 18th April.







8 thoughts on “Cruel and Unusual Gardening or How to Threaten Your Plants into Flourishing

  1. Pingback: Cruel and Unusual Gardening or How to Threaten Your Plants into Flourishing |

  2. Oh plants and murder go hand in hand – sleuths investigating – all good stuff. Sounds wonderful. I am going to reblogg, hope this is OK. Never read Terry Pratchett.

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