My name is Willow McQuade, and gardening is one of my favorite remedies.
I love plunging a trowel into the moist, brown earth, removing enough earth to create a space for a beautiful, health-giving plant, and watching it grow. In fact, I have a passion for everything that’s natural. That’s why I took over my late aunt Claire’s health food store, Nature’s Way Market & Café on the North Fork of Long Island. It was also why I was busy putting the finishing touches on a new medicinal herb garden based on the Chelsea Physic Garden in London this Friday morning in June.
My garden, like the one in London, would showcase various types of plants and use them to educate the local community about the many health benefits of herbs that people can grow at home, such as aloe for burns, turmeric for arthritis, and fennel for indigestion. I planned to hold workshops in the garden to show people how to grow and use these herbs. Now, all of the classes were almost full and I planned to add more.
I got the lot after a local resident donated it to the village and the Mayor and town board asked for applications. I put mine in and kept my fingers crossed and was lucky enough to win! Since then I’ve been working hard, along with my boyfriend and ex-cop Jackson Spade to get the garden ready in time for our annual Maritime Festival – a celebration of all things nautical — which began tomorrow.
Since the Festival first began in 1990, so many events had been added that we locals could barely keep track. But my favorites were the Opening Day Parade, visits from Tall Ships, boat races, the Clam Chowder and Best Pie contests, and the annual pirate invasion, complete with treasure hunts and mermaids. The whole week would be given over to festivities, the town filled with visitors. It seemed the perfect time to officially open the Claire Hagen Medicinal Garden.
Since there were so many things to do, I’d set my alarm for 7:00 a.m., did a quick yoga routine, ate some yogurt with granola, and was in the garden by 8. I’d spent the day digging in the ground and adding plants in each of the sections devoted to different conditions, from heart health to skin care, from chamomile to aloe to calendula.
Qigong, my scruffy, black, grey, and white terrier-type dog, ran up and put his nose in the dirt next to me. He sniffed, decided something was hidden there, and started digging with his chunky, little paws. I patted his head.
“Need help, hon?” Jackson said, and walked over to us. Dressed in his old jeans, a Green Day t-shirt, and boots, he was covered with dirt from working all day on the patio in the back of the garden, which would be the foundation for our new outdoor tea room, but it didn’t matter. With his short cropped hair, just enough stubble to be sexy, and dreamy blue eyes, he made me melt.
“I’m okay,” I said. “Qigong is doing a great job digging holes.”
“I’ll bet,” he said. “I think he wants to be your chief gardening assistant.”
“No one digs a hole like you do,” I assured the dog. Then I got up and pulled Jackson into a hug. “But you’re the best. I couldn’t have done all this without you.” I gave him a kiss.
“Now you have dirt on your nose,” he said, smiling. He pulled a bandana from his back pocket, gently wiped the dirt off, and kissed my nose.
“Okay, you’re all set.”
I glanced at the sky that was suddenly full of clouds, blocking out the late-afternoon sun. “What time is it?” I asked.
Jackson checked his watch. “It’s almost five. Time flies when you’re having fun in the garden.”
I pulled off my gardening gloves. “It sure does. But we need to get ready. Tonight’s the big night. I get to see you in a tux.”
Jackson’s wardrobe usually consisted of jeans, a t-shirt, and boots, but tonight we were going to the Land and Sea Ball, the opening event of the Festival, and Jackson had promised to wear a tux. He looked good in anything, but I was certain he was going to be a knock-out all dressed up.
“And I get to see you in that gown that makes you look like Cinderella.” He gave me a quick kiss. “I just need to clean up over there.”
He turned to start back to the open-air tea garden. But before he could take a step, Qigong, done digging, dropped something at his feet. I saw something rectangular wrapped in what looked like an old dishtowel.
Jackson bent and unwrapped it, revealing a small cardboard box. Or at least it had been. It was nearly flattened now, the cardboard thin with age and barely holding its rectangular shape. “Hmm . . . no wording on the box,” Jackson observed. He lifted what was left of its lid, and I saw a glint of metal inside. “Why would any bury one earring?” he muttered.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He brushed off some dirt then held it out to me–a delicate gold earring with an exquisite heart-shaped setting. “There’s only one in here,”
he said. “And someone obviously buried it in this box. Buried treasure,” he mused.
“It looks old,” I said. “And the wire in the back is broken.”
“What kind of stone is that?”
I squinted at the colorless stone in the middle. Even under the cloudy skies, it had a sparkle to it. “There’s so much dirt around the edges, it’s hard to be sure. But I think . . . it might be a diamond.
Jackson, this could be worth something.”
“We should find the other one,” Jackson said. He took my spade and dug into the ground, but even with Qigong helping him, he didn’t find the other earring. “Nothing here, but I could get that one appraised.”
“Go for it,” I said. “If it’s valuable, you can use the money for your animal refuge.” A year ago, after Jackson adopted two abused dachshunds, he decided to open a haven for animals at his place in East Marion, which was five minutes from Greenport. He had plenty of space, enough for a garden and room for the animals to run free. So far, he had acquired a horse, two donkeys, a goat, five dogs, six cats, two rabbits, and a turtle–and three dedicated volunteers to help him run things.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “You’re just going to give away a possibly antique, possibly diamond earring?”
“You know I’m not really into jewelry,” I said with shrug. “But I do like helping your refuge. So keep the earring.”
I handed him the earring, and he dropped it in his pocket. “Thanks, McQuade. That’s very nice of you.” He gave me a quick kiss.
“No problem.” I began to put my tools back into the gardening basket. “I think we’re in good shape for tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Well, the patio isn’t quite done but I think the garden is really impressive. You’re ready.”
I blew out a breath. “Good, so we can just relax and have fun tonight.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
I picked up the basket and gave him another quick kiss. Even when he was covered with dirt, Jackson was ridiculously kissable. “I’ll meet you in the shower. If we do it together, it’s more environmentally friendly.”
“Sounds good to me. As you know, I can be very friendly,” Jackson said, smiling.
You can read more about Willow in Garden of Death, the third book in the “Natural Remedies” mystery series, published by Pocket Books. The first two books in the series are Scent to Kill and Death Drops.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 p.m. eastern on March 30 for the chance to win a copy of Garden of Death. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. Make sure to check your SPAM folder.
About the author
CHRYSTLE FIEDLER is the author of the previous Natural Remedies mysteries, Scent to Kill, and Death Drops, as well as six nonfiction books on natural healing and herbal remedies. Also a freelance journalist specializing in alternative health topics, her work has appeared in Natural Health, Spirituality & Health, Mother Earth Living, Green Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Vegetarian Times, and Remedy. She lives in Greenport, New York with her 3 dachshunds and 2 cats, three of which are rescues. Visit www.chrystlefiedler.com, or follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.