Mystery in the Garden: Interview with Ellis Peters

We used to make bottled medicine that we compounded specially, with ingredients like gentian, rosemary, horehound.

Ellis Peters reigns as the undisputed queen of mystery writers in the hearts of many herb lovers. She has written 19 novels and 3 short stories featuring Brother Cadfael, a twelfth-century soldier-of-fortune-turned-Benedictine-monk. Cadfael is an herbalist, apothecary, and amateur sleuth. The early chapters of many of the books take place in his herb garden or in the small workshop he maintains adjoining it.

Peters made a recent trip to the United States to promote her newest Brother Cadfael book, The Holy Thief. I had an opportunity to interview her for The Herb Companion during a visit to the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, California.

“I’m sorry to tell you I’m not an herb gardener myself,” she confesses. “Oh, I have a few kitchen herbs—I can snip off a sprig of rosemary, and one or two other things, but I don’t have a proper herb garden.”

Peters is a lifelong gardener and garden lover, however. “I have quite a large garden, but I have someone else tending it now, you know. I go out and deadhead the roses now and then, and I sit in it and admire. I’m not able to do much more.”

Peters is a slender, gracious woman who navigates with a confidence that belies her leather-thonged cane and recent recovery from major back surgery. She is cordial, humorous, and possesses an unfailing alertness and poise. She was born Edith Mary Pargeter in Horsehay, Shropshire, in 1913; she still lives within a few miles of her birthplace. She began her writing career in 1936 with the publication of her first novel, Hortensius, Friend of Nero. Over the years, she has published more than 90 historical novels, collections of short stories, mysteries and thrillers, plays, and book translations

from Czech. She taught herself Czech from books and recordings. Her work in translations earned her the Czechoslovak Society for International Relations Gold Medal in 1968.

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