Sticky Pink Peonies – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages us to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Graham Lawrence:


And this is my story:

Sticky Pink Peonies

Jessie bobbed a curtsy. ‘’Scuse me ma’am, but the master asked whether you’d be attending the dinner party this evening.’

Lady Howarth wrinkled her nose and wiped her paintbrush down her long skirts. ‘It depends on how long my friends keep me talking, Jessie: they’re awfully chatty. If I am busy, he must carry on without me.  Mrs. Williams can be hostess instead.’

Jessie stifled a giggle at the thought of the crusty housekeeper chatting with influential people whilst the mistress entertained her imaginary ‘friends’ in the garden.

Lady Howarth swirled her paintbrush around a sticky pink blob on her canvas, intended to resemble a delicate peony on the nearby bush. ‘Monsieur Monet tells me that even Queen Victoria likes my work …’

A year had passed since the carriage had overturned, leaving Lady Howarth with the mind of a child. After the meeting tonight, the mistress would be admitted to the asylum – rendering the wealthy Lord Howarth quite free: as Jessie had planned the day she removed the pin from the carriage wheel.

Word Count: 175

If you’d like to view other entries, click the little blue frog below:

Some ‘extra’ information, for anyone interested:

The lovely garden in Graham’s prompt reminded me of the walled gardens in the grounds of the many English stately homes that I’ve visited. Consequently, I set my story in Victorian times. I haven’t the time this week for much of an ‘Extra bit’ to accompany my story, but here’s a little snippet about walled gardens:

Perhaps one of the most famous walled gardens in literature features in the novel, ‘The Secret Garden’.  I read this story many years ago and can remember little about it – so perhaps a re-read is due. But I do remember the main character: a young girl (a child) finding her way into an abandoned and totally overgrown walled garden and tending to it – and it completely changed her life, easing the misery of her loveless upbringing.

The Secret Garden (cover) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849-1924. Public Domain.
The Secret Garden (cover) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849-1924. Public Domain.

Essentially, the walled garden was something that many big and affluent houses had, mostly for growing fruit and vegetables for the use of the family living there. Some we’ve visited still grow really old varieties no longer heard of the shops or markets of today. It’s interesting to see how some of these old varieties differ to the modern ones. Sections of the gardens were generally devoted to flower growing too, to adorn the halls and stately rooms and impress the important guests.

Here’s a definition of a walled garden from Wikipedia:

“A walled garden is a garden enclosed by high walls for horticultural rather than security purposes, although originally all gardens may have been enclosed for protection from animal or human intruders. In temperate climates the essential function of the walls surrounding a walled garden is to shelter the garden from wind and frost,  though they may also serve a decorative purpose”.

Azealeas blooming inside the walled garden at Sunbury. Author: Colin bSmith. Commons
Azealeas blooming inside the walled garden at Sunbury. Author: Colin Smith. Commons

The walls were very important, some even having built-in heating systems:

Walled Garden 'hypocaust' system, (Hollow wall). Author: Rosser. Public Domain.
Walled Garden ‘hypocaust’ system, (Hollow wall). Author: Rosser. Public Domain.

The hollow wall idea involves a hollow wall with openings in the stonework on the side facing the garden. Fires could be lit inside the wall to provide heat to protect the fruit growing against the wall, such as espaliers. Heat would escape into the garden through these openings. Smoke from the fires would be directed upwards through chimneys or flues.

This is what an espaliered fruit tree looks like:

Espaliered fruit tree at Gaaskeek. Author: KVDB. Public Domain
Espaliered fruit tree at Gaaskeek. Author: KVDB. Public Domain

I would have liked to have written about the dreadful asylums, which were still in existence until the 1960s, or even later. Perhaps I’ll do that another time . . .

56 thoughts on “Sticky Pink Peonies – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

  1. Oh my, that Jessie turned out to be much more wicked than I realized at first glance! Nice twist there.

    I’m glad you wrote about hypocaust garden walls instead of asylums. I’d much rather picture dear Lady Howarth in a garden than in one of those.

    1. It’s a sad fact that asylums were not nice places years ago, Joy. There have been many cases of husbands having their wives ‘committed’ just because they wanted them out of the way. It was easy for rich, powerful men to make up stories about erratic behaviour.

  2. Jessie is indeed very wicked and I hope she is found out. I wonder if Mr. Howarth is aware of Jessie’s wicked tricks? Wonderful story Millie! I really enjoyed reading it and I enjoyed reading about the beautiful English gardens. I had never heard of espaliered fruit so that was very interesting along with the photo of one. I also enjoyed hearing about the uses of the gardens in times past. Great story and footnotes! Thank you for participating in FFfAW challenge! (Oh, and I need to reread The Secret Garden too).

    1. Espaliered fruit trees are just normal trees that have had their branches ‘trained’ to grow sideways, along wires. It just keeps them flat against the wall. Nick (husband) tried it with one of ours in our last house. It turned out really well. I’ve added The Secret Garden to my ever-growing list of TBR. 🙂

  3. They way Mrs Howarth reacted on Jessie’s call is typical of those mentally ill people of those times. Jessie is not worth being such a lovely lady’s maid. I also don’t mr Howarth because I am sure he is the one that caused Jessie to do things like that. You’ve done a good job of giving all the information needed to finish of a story in as little words as you did. Twist and all. Interesting information about walled gardens too. I have read The Secret Garden many years back.

    1. Thanks, Ineke. I don’t think Lord Howarth is all that innocent, either. As I said in my ‘extra bit’, it was quite easy for wealthy men to have unwanted wives committed in order to get them out of the way. I read The Secret Garden when I was at school myself, so don’t remember all the detail. If I find time, I’ll have a re-read. They made it into a film, I think.

  4. Positively Machiavellian, Millie. You’ve managed to take a tranquil, color-splotched garden and turn it into the locus of iniquitous deeds. Perhaps espaliers have this effect on you, but more importantly, the reader is treated to a satisfyingly surprising story.

    1. Yes, blame the espaliers! Perhaps I was just feeling like writing something decidedly Machiavellian last night. I have to admit, the story was going to head somewhere quite different when I started writing – but then, I decided it sounded plain boring. I bet you’ve grown espaliers, haven’t you? Although I know they wouldn’t have been ‘deciduous’ fruit trees.
      Thank you for finding my story “satisfyingly surprising”.

      1. Hi Jack. Mom’s always know best, you know.I keep trying to impress that upon my tribe. Pity they don’t listen. 🙂
        Hope you’ve had some great walks lately. It’s beginning to look as though autumn’s on its way here, and the mornings are cold and often misty. I like that, though, because it means the day will be warm and sunny, as it was today. Lovely for walking down the lanes. 🙂

      2. Yes, it’s always been my favourite season, although spring is right on its tail. I suppose all seasons are wonderful in their own way.
        I’m considering your idea about my FF stories. You got my brain ticking there. I have quite a collection and I may well put them together sometime. I did this one today (despite saying I wasn’t doing any more, to boost up the numbers. There are some I don’t like as much as others, so I’d have to be selective. But first things first, and Alfred and Eadwulf come first. 🙂

      3. Hard to beat Spring, I agree. Off goes Winter while we welcome in warmer weather and gardening time. Around here, though, Spring can bring very dangerous, damaging storms. I hope you move forward on publishing your FF after you put Alfred and Eadwulf to bed.

      4. It will need a bit of thought as to how to set the book out and so on. I ‘ve never actually seen a book of flash fiction stories. I’d have to find suitable illustrations, too. Any way, thank you for the suggestion. I know of one other blogger who is creating her book at the moment. That might give me some ideas. Have you never thought of joining in with these challenges? I suppose you’re being sensible in not doing while you’re writing your book.

  5. Well, now you’ve done it. Not only did I enjoy your story but the information about walled gardens now makes me want o have one. We do not have the room at present but I know my wife will agree (she’s always wanted a “proper” garden rather than the few bushes and flowers we’ve planted in our yard)! Thanks, Millie, for a great read!

    1. It would be just perfect to have a lovely walled garden, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, few of us could fit one in our little piece of personal space. 🙂 I knew I should have married Lord Whatsisname fifty years ago. 😀 (Don’t tell my husband I said that – or Louise.She might drop me in it.)

  6. I enjoyed reading about the walled gardens, and of course the Burnett cover is darling.

    By the way, you’ve been chosen as one of today’s nine blogs in That’s So Jacob’s Ninth Month Blog Challenge (! I challenge you to find nine blogs you find interesting and give them a comment to brighten their day…well, eight other blogs and mine 🙂 Copy this message in your comment and enjoy your new blog friends!

      1. Yes, I suppose it was a bit mean of me to do that to her. The story started out to be a nice little tale, but it just sounded boring, so I changed it! I’m sure that many women in those days (and of that ‘class’) were betrayed by husbands, and others. Thank you for caring about her. 🙂

      2. They could, because women had no rights over property or anything. After marriage, everything that had belonged to a woman became her husbands – even if she’d been the one who owned the property previously. This is the ‘upper classes’ II’m talking about, but even working class women had few rights. I’m so glad that times have changed – in this and similar countries, anyway.

      3. The asylums were places that needed to go. The treatments inside were more than harsh. Thankfully, medical advances have brought new ways of dealing with mental illness.
        As for Nigeria (thinking here about your post) sometimes losing traditions is like losing part of who we are. I agree that life and technology etc. has to move forward, but I love to see our old buildings and retain some of our old customs. Nigerian culture is so rich and vibrant, with a distinct tribal culture which I would hate to think is in danger of being lost. Perhaps it’s inevitable, though I’m sure you know a lot more that I do about that. Improvements in education and medicine, transport and general infrastructure etc. are always good. As you say, finding a balance is what is needed.

  7. Great twist, Millie.:) I enjoyed reading the post on walled garden definitely better than mental asylums. Who can forget those horrifying places of the past? The secret garden seems like an interesting book.

    1. Thanks, Suganiya. I read The Secret Garden when I was about twelve, so I think of it as a children’s book. But I know it can be enjoyed by older people. It was also made into a film.
      Even the word ‘asylum’ makes me shudder. Yet they survived well into the 1960s, perhaps even later in some places.

  8. Oh my gawd – Lady Howarth isn’t going to win either way, is she?
    “‘Monsieur Monet tells me that even Queen Victoria likes my work …’” sad but quite an amusing conversation.
    As usual, your background information was so interesting. It brought to mind the courtyards of New Orleans – where I lived for many years. Some of the gardens are beautiful!

    1. I can well imagine that New Orleans has some wonderful gardens. It’s a long-established city, with such a French influence. I don’t know where you are now, but can’t help wondering whether you miss New Orleans? Like me, you probably just adapt to wherever you live. 🙂

  9. Your brought the secret garden alive Millie! The vivid color of a beautiful garden kept flashing in my head like I were actually there 😛 Jessie was a bit naughty, but I actually found her cute lol. The twist of your story amazed me and this is what you are always so good at 😉 Brilliant story sweetie! ❤

    1. Thank you so much, Khloe! I love gardens of any kind, and the old walled gardens were very special places. With those high walls they feel like really ‘secret’ places. As for Jessie, she wasn’t nice in the end – just a scheming little money-grabber. She did start off quite cute, though. 🙂

      1. You’re welcome Millie ❤ I'm a sucker for gardens as well. Always find them refreshing and beautiful 😉 Yes, totally agree with you. She started off cute but then the unexpected twist came in 😛

  10. Interesting take on the story. Such wickedness from Jesse. Loved your reference to “The Secret Garden”. It is my favorite story and I have reread it many times. 🙂

  11. I think walled garden are fascinating and I have only ever seen one in person. Love that extra information on the flash fiction, which I have to say, was a great write! Nothing like a good case of fictional pre-meditated murder!

    1. Thank you, Amanda. Jessie started out to be nice, but half way through writing, I decided she’d make a better two-faced villain and changed the story completely. I’m glad you enjoy a touch of ‘fictional pre-meditated murder’! (Great phrase.)

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