Gloria Alden is the author of a gardening mystery series—The Catherine Jewell Mystery Series. She’s also published numerous short stories. Learn more about Gloria and her books at her website and blog.
Not So Crafty Anymore
When I offered to be a guest blogger, I mentioned I’m into gardening rather than crafts, and Lois assured me we could consider it outdoor decorating.
However, I got to thinking that although I don’t do what is considered crafting anymore, I have done so for years. In my twenties I learned to crochet. I made doilies–remember those? And I made afghans and gave most of them away as gifts. There was a time I did cross stitch, but not very long at that.
Then in my early thirties I got an oil painting art kit with my S&H Green Stamps. It came in a wooden box complete with oil paints, several canvases and brushes. It took me a year before I had the courage to actually put something on that stark white canvas, and no, it was not paint by numbers. My first picture was of our cat. I imagine that picture is somewhere up in the barn now. But once I started painting, I was totally hooked and often worked until 2:00 a.m., working on a painting in the laundry room where I’d set up my easel and paints.
Soon I started taking art lessons and then to art shows and started selling my paintings. Also, a friend and I opened a small craft shop before the big ones became popular. We sold things we’d made plus craft supplies. It was in an out of the way place with not enough customers to cover the rent, so it didn’t last long.
A neighbor and I discussed starting a craft business that did parties in the home like a Tupperware party, but with crafts we made. Before we could proceed with that idea, my oldest son was diagnosed with cancer in the early spring of his senior year in high school. He was eighteen. While I was with him through his treatments at the Cleveland Clinic or doctor appointments, I worked on needlework of one kind or another. Between his chemo bouts when he was feeling well enough to go places with his friends, I worked on making other crafts—stuffed animals, wreathes, and many other things, as well as my paintings.
John died in early October at home in my arms. I spent much of my time either outside walking or caring for my critters, or in my basement sewing or painting or working on other crafts. My neighbor and I started our first in-the-home craft show about a month after John’s death. Whether it was pity, or not, I sold a lot of items, and we booked more parties. Eventually, my neighbor dropped out because she didn’t have as many things to sell as I did, and hers weren’t selling well. Over the next five years I booked 85 home parties. I filled up the back of a pickup truck with boxes of the things I made. Much of what I earned helped pay my way through college. I soon stopped the craft shows after I graduated and got a teaching job. From that time on, most of my creativity was spent on teaching third grade instead of crafts and painting.
Now my creative side comes through in my writings—books, short stories and poetry, as well as in my gardening—two passions of mine. I wrote a lot of poetry in college, and about five years before I retired from teaching. I started writing my first mystery, The Blue Rose, which has a gardening theme, of course. It’s gone through numerous revisions and editing. I have written two more in that series, plus a middle-grade mystery, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club, based on a year’s long writing activity I did with my students. I still write poetry, and I’ve written more than twenty short stories.
As for my gardening, remember that blank canvas that so intimidated me? When my ex had a mid-life crises after thirty-one years of marriage, and on a beginning teacher’s salary, I couldn’t afford to buy him out, I bought an old house in horrible shape with twenty acres and a barn because I needed a place of my own for my two horses, my youngest daughter, and me.
Only my mother found something positive to say about it. Others tried to find encouraging words and couldn’t for a house with a leaking roof, two basement walls collapsing, and an inside that I can’t begin to describe.
My twenty-six year old son and I gutted the house with the help of family and friends so he could rewire with up-to-date wiring. I hired someone to replace the roof, and this awesome son of mine put in new drywalls and helped me turn it into a comfortable place.
But I was the one in charge of the non-existent gardens except for some old lilac bushes, one old rose, a few peonies and an incredible amount of weeds. So here I was with a blank canvas, so to speak, and no one, absolutely no one, to say I couldn’t put in as many gardens as I wanted or plant as many trees, shrubs or rose bushes or daylilies as I wanted to plant. I’ve been a gardener more or less most of my life, but nothing on this scale.
Because visiting gardens on camping vacations is something I’ve always done over the years, especially with my sisters, I had many, many, many ideas. There is only one major problem with visiting gardens like Monticello—Jefferson had slaves, and I have only myself with the occasional someone hired for heavy work or a long-suffering sometimes but not always patient son, and a few grandsons before they grew up.
I have one sixteen-year-old grandson right now, who is good for the occasional odd job, but other than that, I dig, plant, weed, mow and sort of maintain, more or less, about an acre or so of lawn and gardens. The rest is a large pond, woods or mowed by my son or daughter-in-law who live next door beyond my barn and pasture.
I love my place. I love my morning walks in the woods with Maggie, my collie, my outside critters—two ponies, six hens and an old guinea fowl—my gardens as weedy as they are that still have many blooms in all seasons except for winter, and my home filled with books and plants.
The Blue Rose
In The Blue Rose, Catherine Jewell, part-time botanist for Elmwood Gardens and owner of a small garden center, Roses and Thyme, discovers the body of Augustus Chatterton, at the reception he’s hosting for his introduction of the first true blue rose. Not many people like him, and many wonder how this man who doesn’t seem to do any gardening could have propagated the rose. Catherine finds herself trying to find out who his murderer is since John MacDougal, the local police chief, has never dealt with murder before and is focusing on her co-workers and friends. There are plenty of suspects and interesting characters, and another murder, but working together as well as having some close calls with death, Catherine and John solve the murders with a slight love interest developing.