Researching Poisonous Plants with Liz Fielding


Abby Finch, the heroine of my Maybridge Murder Mystery series, is a garden designer so it's important that as well as solving crimes, she spends a little time actually doing some gardening and, whilst I love my garden and have a decent grasp of the fundamentals, this has required research.

When, for instance, is the right time to prune an Acer?

What is the Latin name for witch hazel?

And where could I find beautiful gardens to inspire me without leaving the comfort of my chair?


Abby added prune acers to her list. She’d taught Cal the technique, so their clients’ trees were safely done. It was her own garden that was becoming sadly neglected and she was running out of time for a job that should be done before Christmas.

“Sod it . . .”

She put on a coat and her boots, grabbed a torch and pair of secateurs that hung by the back door and went outside.

Abby had been working for a little over half an hour when she heard a window open.

“Mum . . .” Lucy hissed. “What are you doing?”

She didn’t look up. “I’m just catching up with some pruning.”

“It’s the middle of the night!”

“I’m nearly done. Since you’re awake is there any chance of a cup of tea?”


Obviously, the internet is a great source of information, but I do like to have something solid in my hand that I can refer to, or browse through for ideas. For the inspirational browsing I subscribed to Gardens Illustrated. It's an utterly gorgeous magazine which came with free seeds in the summer, which are blooming in my garden right now!

But obviously, when writing crime, it's not just the beauty of Abby's restored Victorian walled garden and her designs that were the focus of my attention.

It was how the plants could be used to cause the death of a victim. 

I did know that you should wear gloves when handling foxgloves, (Digitalis purpurea).

Used in heart medicine, they are extremely valuable – my husband took digoxin to help regulate his heart – but they contain toxic cardiac glycosides and can result in severe poisoning.

Here are some in my last garden in Wiltshire. So lovely.

I also knew that this beauty, Datura, or Angel’s Trumpet, native to the tropics, is extremely dangerous. I didn't know that it's also potentially psychoactive – especially the flowers and seeds or that Victorian ladies cultivated it in their conservatories and caught drops of the nectar in their teacups for an illicit buzz.

And I found many stories about Aconitum - monkshood - being used as poison. Medea, a Scythian sorceress, tried to use it on Theseus. Athena used it to change Arachne to a spider when she dared outspin the goddess. And Calpurnius Bestia, when he'd tired of a wife, would smear his finger with an extract made from the roots and then touch her intimately. Once absorbed, it led to their deaths.

The Roman emperor Claudius fell to aconite poisoning, too. Needless to say, this is another plant to be handled wearing gloves!

The one place I knew would I would find dangerous plants is the famous Poison Garden, created by the Duchess of Northumberland at Annick Castle. It's at the other end of the country and I had a deadline so, much as I want to go there – it's on my bucket list - I had to do it long distance.

 Their shop website was down for refurbishment so I telephoned the Castle and, in return for my credit card number, a charming young man sent me this beautifully illustrated booklet.

Hours and hours of wonderful research for now and the future.

Do you know of any plant that is poisonous apart from these ones? 

Liz Fieding 

Liz Fielding met her husband when they were both working in Zambia and were keen members of the Lusaka Theatre Club. He was playing John de Stogumber in St Joan, and she was the pageboy to the Earl of Warwick. He swore it was the purple tights that got him. Years spent in Africa and the Middle East provided the background to many of Liz's romances. Her first, An Image of You, was set in Kenya, in a place where they had spent many happy weekends on safari. It was plucked from the slush pile because the feisty feminist heroine made her editor laugh. Emotion touched with humour has been the hallmark of her work ever since.
After writing 70 books for Harlequin Mills and Boon, Liz has now turned to crime, signing with Joffe Books for three "Maybridge Mysteries", the first of which, Murder Among the Roses, is published on 18th April.

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Liz Fielding has a new book out:



Abby Finch arrives at the old church hall armed with festive mistletoe and holly, ready to decorate. But within moments of her walking through the door, tragedy strikes . . .

Edward Marsh reaches to test the antique star at the top of the tree. There’s a fizz and the lights go out.

Abby hears the sickening thud of a body hitting the floor. When the lights turn back on, Edward is dead.

It soon becomes clear it was no accident.

The real victim should have been Gregory Tatton. Dapper silver fox. Popular with the ladies of the seniors’ lunch club. A known blackmailer . . .

Abby is desperate to find out the truth, but putting herself in danger isn’t on her Christmas wish list.

Who’s been naughty? Who’s been nice? Who’s hiding the fact they’re a murderer?

Fans of Faith Martin, Jane Adams, Frances Evesham, M.C. Beaton, Clare Chase or Jeanne M. Dams will love this addictive cozy mystery!

Buy on:

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