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Director: Tom Clegg, Brian Farnham

Starring: Felicity Kendal, Pam Ferris

Production Company: Carnival Films

MPAA Rating: NR Run time: 294 minutes (6 episodes/3 DVDs)

Genre: British mystery/crime/gardening

Available through Acorn Meida

(The third series is not yet available on DVD but is being shown on some PBS-type television stations in Canada. Check local listings for schedule.)

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

This is a delightful British mystery series that combines sleuthing and gardening. It features two women of middle-age, one of whom is charmingly "large-boned," as they snoop and sleuth their way through some of the most gorgeous English gardens you are ever to likely see. (One of the fun aspects of the DVDs is that they tell you which gardens were used during the filming of the series.)

The two women meet while both are experiencing life-altering events. They each offer support and friendship to the other, and soon discover they have what it takes to go into the gardening (or restorative landscape) business together. They also both love to snoop and can't resist when little things catch their attention -- like someone's wife smooching with some one other than her husband...

Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal) has an academic background in plant biology. Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) simply loves flowers and gardening. She has a more folksy approach to the business while Rosemary likes to bring out the test tubes and microscope and get to the bottom of things, plant disease-wise, using scientific methods.

Laura was once a WPC (Woman Police Constable) but gave it up when she married a DI (Detective Inspector) and settled down to a life of being a wife and mother. Her grown son is also a policeman and she calls upon him whenever she and Rosemary are in a pinch needing information about a suspect. As you can imagine, the son doesn't take kindly to being used in such a manner, but he's a good son and always comes through for his mum.

The two characters a good match and make a good team. It's great fun to watch them snoop around and just narrowly miss getting caught...although to be fair, they do sometimes get caught red-handed. I thoroughly enjoy their banter and I love the garden settings.

One plus for me, and for some others I will guess, is that the series is not based upon characters created in a book. That means there are no comparisons to be made between a written character and a film character. No second-guessing what an author might have really intended her characters to do, or say, or how they might have developed under someone else's guidance. The two actesses were approached for their roles before any scripts had actually been written. The basic idea of a gardening mystery series was there but the two actresses were allowed to develop their characters' personalities rather than be constrained by characters created previously in novels. They even had to figure things out such as which one eats the salt-and-vinegar crisps and which one eats the cheese and onion crisps.

Another big plus in my opinion is that the women are complete characters without needing to be defined by the men around them. No husbands, boyfriends, lovers, whatever to get in the way of their friendship and adventures. Now that's not to say that they aren't attracted to the opposite sex, just that they don't let it interfere with their adventures. They are two spunky ladies enjoying life to the fullest, despite what comes their way.

My only quibble is that the one-hour (or 50 minute) format doesn't do the series justice. At times, things seem a bit too jumbled or choppy. I would love to see the stories developed for a ninety-minute format. Two hours would be way too much time to fill but 90 minutes could be just right.

In this first series, the women take on a poisoner, discover the buried bones of a racehorse, find a dead man under a yew tree (often called "the tree of death," according to Laura) in a churchyard they've been hired to restore, and uncover a secret message "written" with plants by a man now dead, when they try to restore a long ago broken waterfall fountain. Murder, mayhem, and mystery become entangled with flowers, trees, and garden statues. It's a refreshing combination.

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