Mystery authors share with area gardeners

By Frances Wychorski
Citizen Chronicle Writer

BROOKFIELD — The spring equinox is less than one month away. The roller coaster weather of February has brought a telltale shade of blush to new growth on fruit trees and shrubs. The buds are starting to form and make ready for pollinators.

Last Sunday started out with a mess of sleet and snow on window panes. By noon, things improved to a cold dismal light rain, the kind that liked to aggravate arthritic joints. The elements did not dampen the turnout as a large crowd streamed into Brookfield Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall. The cheery crimson red tablecloths warmed up the room. The buffet set with homemade torts, scones, cookies and treats resembled a high tea. People felt warmed and welcomed as they came to the Brookfield Garden Club’s monthly gathering to hear “Gardening is Murder” by Neal and Betty Sanders.

Mr. Sanders told the audience he left the corporate world of investment banking after 32 years of service. In his Medfield home, he converted a spare room to a writer’s nest and began a second career as a murder and mystery writer. Twelve years later, the self-published author has penned eleven books from his own Hardington Press, with the twelfth due out later this month. Mr. Sanders likes the control of being his own publisher. He prefers to write in the off-season to be free for his role as principal under gardener for his wife, Betty. He said his job in the garden is to “dig holes and move rocks”. The affable Mr. Sanders shared the garden glories of removing tree stumps by hand, outsmarting a squirrel raiding a compost container and creating a rock pile four feet high, three stones wide and 125 feet long. Each rock represents a plant that was planted or transplanted within the garden.

Mrs. Sanders is a Certified Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, a nationally accredited floral design judge and a nationally accredited horticultural instructor. She writes the Horticultural Hints column for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s newsletter: The Leaflet. MRs. Sanders has her own webpage: BettyOnGardening.com and has given numerous talks on gardening throughout Massachusetts.

The Brookfield event drew an audience of more than 50 people, including invited members of the Leicester and Monson Garden Clubs. Mr. Sanders advised the crowd that internet gardening may not provide the best answers.  In seeking a solution to remove slugs from the yard, he said the search returned five million results with the top responses offering suggestions of natural products that could have devastating effects on pets and wildlife. Solutions included using invasive plant species, expensive plant extracts and lava rocks to thwart the slugs. The most practical solution of baits containing iron phosphate as the active ingredient came on page 32 of the search from the Master Gardeners of Iowa. Mr. Sanders said about Google, “they don’t know the difference between good advice and bad advice. All they know is popular advice. The results are what everybody else is clicking on first, whether or not it’s any good.”

Mr. Sanders set up a table for book sales including “The Garden Club Gang” based on what he thought was the fictitious town of Brookfield. What a surprise it was to be lost on the way home from a trip to the Berkshires when he stumbled upon Route 9 traveling through the Brookfields. The inspiration for this story is based upon the real experience of a mature woman being ignored at the local pharmacy. She had sent in prints for pick up and felt snubbed by the teenage clerks who were more interested in ogling a pretty girl in the makeup aisle. The woman’s attempts to finish the sale were put off. She said, “I am invisible”.  The woman ended up helping herself to the printed pictures and left without paying the cost of $1.98. The clerks didn’t care if she was there or not. This incident was matched to witnessing an armored carrier picking up the cash receipts from the Topsfield Fair entry gate. He wondered what would happen if four women stole the cash. This book led to two more in the series: “Deadly Deeds” and “Fatal Equity.”

Mr. Sanders admits he flunked retirement. He loves to write and is “proud of each and every one of his books.”

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