Poirot (Classic): S03E02 “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

At the Russian Embassy in London, a woman named Katrina (Catherine Russell) meets with a diplomat and passes an envelope to him. Inside: a ticket to a flower show (hilariously stamped with “WTF” in big letters across it).

Also at the flower show: Poirot, who’s getting a pink rose named after him. He, of course, spruced up for the occasion by buying some perfume cologne at a hairdresser’s shop beforehand.

Also at the flower show: Our Man Hastings, who’s come down with an annoying case of hay fever.

Also at the flower show: Japp, who’s there because apparently Japp is a BIG flower guy! I don’t know why, but the fact that “Japp of the Yard” is literally “Japp of the yard” delights me to no end.

Also at the flower show: Amelia Barrowby (Margery Mason), a little old lady accompanied by her niece Mary (Anne Stalleybrass) and her niece’s worthless drunk of a husband Henry (Tim Wylton). Oh, and did I mention Amelia’s Russian companion? It’s Katrina, she of the visit to the Russian Embassy.

While at the show, Mrs. B spies Poirot, and starts to get agitated, especially when she sees our friend the Russian diplomat greet Katrina and slip something into her purse. Mrs. B arranges to bump into Poirot, and thrusts a seed packet into his hand right before Katrina returns to wheel her away. Later, at lunch, Poirot asks Japp about the seeds, which are allegedly for Catherine the Great red roses… except there are no seeds in the packet.

Later that day, Poirot opens his mail and sees a letter from none other than Mrs. B herself, imploring him to come visit her at home as she suspects something rotten is afoot in her house. Poirot resolves to set out the next day, bringing Miss Lemon along with him and leaving Hastings and his hay fever to manage the office.

This being a Poirot episode, of course, Mrs. B is poisoned with strychnine (in another chilling here’s-how-hideous-it-actually-is-to-die-from-poison-you-monsters death scene like we saw last week at Styles Court) at home and dies before they arrive the next day.

(Side Note: I haven’t counted up the number of people who have died literally the day before Poirot decides to come investigate, but it seems like… a lot? I feel like after the first couple of incidents Miss Lemon would just be straight up opening mail THE MINUTE it arrives just to get Poirot on a train toot sweet.)

Upon arriving, Katrina the Russian mutters something about having seen Mrs. B “write it down” and how she was owed, but Our Belgian is politely shooed away by Mary n’ Henry now that Mrs. B has gone off to tend the garden in the sky.

And so we’re left with the question: who killed Mrs. Barrowby? Was it Katrina, the secretive Russian who vanishes moments after Poirot’s arrival? Was it Mary n’ Henry, the broke ne’er-do-wells reliant on Mrs. B for income? Or was it the local “Le Doctor” Sims, seen prescribing something for our victim’s indigestion just days before? And what in blue hell is going on with that seed packet, anyway?

Grey Cells:

The seed packet was Mrs. Barrowby tipping off M. Poirot that the Russian (Catherine the Great) was… the key? Or… suspicious? Or… you know what, I‘m not really sure what the deal was there, other than it pointed to the Russian, Katrina.

UPDATE: Faithful reader Aiwendil points out in the comments that the tip-off here was meant to be the word “Stocks” printed on the seed packet, trying to clue in Poirot to the motive.

Which is weird, because Mrs. B left all her money to Katrina, and apparently liked her quite a bit? So…. did she start to suspect her and just didn’t get her will changed in time, or what? It’s unclear (to me). In any event, Mrs. B was under the impression that Poirot had already read her letter to him (which he hadn’t), and assumed he’d get the reference straightaway.

Mary (and by proxy her husband Henry) killed Mrs. B, by giving her a special treat of oysters – her favorite food, and one she wasn’t supposed to be eating thanks to her doctor’s advice – doused in strychnine. Having already lost their own money on the stock exchange, they were now stealing Mrs. B’s money to gamble with, and she was getting wise to it.

In a very good scene, Poirot confronts them with the truth and Mary makes a run for it, first attempting to defend herself with a pitchfork and, failing that, tries to kill herself by drinking a bottle of weed killer. Too bad her hubby slapped a fake label that said WEED KILLER on a bottle of whiskey, making for an oddly comical end to the tale.

Oh, and the Russian diplomat? Well, turns out Katrina was exiled Russian nobility, a Tsarist, and she and the diplomat are very much in love, and could only see each other at things like secret rendevous at flower shows, what with him working for Uncle Joe and all. Of course, now with Mrs. B’s money they’re free to go be rich and in love somewhere, and isn’t that what life is really all about?

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The episode ends with Hastings realizing that his hay fever was really an allergic reaction to a specific perfume that his mother wore, and that’s when everyone looks pointedly at Poirot, who vehemently denies spending five whole guineas on a bottle of perfume and angrily kicks everyone out of the office so he can revel in his sweet, sweet smell.

OK, so it sounds like a garden-variety (HAR!) episode of Poirot, but there’s a few things that stand out here that make it worth watching.

For one, the lovely Pauline Moran really gets to shine here as Miss Lemon (appropriate, as apparently the story was the first to feature her). She not only gets a great gag about not wanting Hastings to pay a bill or mess up her filing system while she’s out with Poirot (spoiler alert: he, of course, does), her advice proves key to solving the crime when she lectures Our Man that “tradesmen will never forget you if you pay in cash, they’ll think your checks aren’t good!” A nice bit of earned wisdom.

Second, there’s a scene in which Poirot is trying to get Mrs. B’s attorney to divulge who gets what in the will, but he refuses to breach attorney-client privilege; Poirot gets him to compromise a bit, and while the attorney is judging a pony show in the village he takes pains to give Poirot coded messages in his judging to let him know what’s what. A clever scene that brought a smile to my face once I realized what was going on.

Finally, the denouement is shot neatly in the garden from an overhead bird’s eye view; we see the killer surrounded by the other suspects and police, and it’s an interesting angle that shows them being slowly closed in on. I mention this because although we saw flashes of some unusual direction last season, by and large Poirot is fairly conservative when it comes to staging and this really stood out as something we hadn’t seen before.

So: a decent mystery (if maybe a little too soon on the heels of L’Affaire d’ Styles from last week), some funny bits, and more Pauline Moran is always a good thing. Works for me!

Location, Location, Location: Some really excellent location shots and scenes in this episode; the Chelsea Flower Show of 1935 is lush and bright and indulgent, the Russian Orthodox Church in London is both magnificent and magnificently shot here, Poirot’s perfume cologne shop G.W. Trumpers is apparently a real store in London, and even the Freemasons Hall is rendered here as the Russian Embassy (complete with a giant portrait of Uncle Joe over the diplomat’s desk).

Hey! It’s Not That Guy!: Nobody jumped out at me in this episode that I recognized.

Well, That Got A Little Dark: We learn that Miss Lemon helped out in the morgue during the First World War, and in addition to rounding out her character a bit it provides an opportunity for Poirot to make a crack about refining her legendary filing system on dead bodies.

Quotent Quotables:

Japp (chewing out constables): “D’you hear that? If there wasn’t a lady present, your ears would be burning so much they’d boil what’s left of your brains.”

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Miss Lemon (on Poirot’s extended time grooming): “”Perhaps he’s dying his hair.”

Hastings: “…”

Hastings: “…”

Hastings: “…”

Hastings: “But he’s a man!”

Next Week, on Poirot: It’s a trans-Atlantic sea cruise for Poirot and Our Man, and with a million bucks in Liberty bonds along for the ride, that can only mean one thing — there’s gonna be a “Million Dollar Bond Robbery”!