Lethal plants blossom in England’s Poison Garden

Within Alnwick Garden, its Poison Garden is sealed behind black wrought iron gates. Photo: biddenhamgardnersassociation.orgWithin Alnwick Garden, its Poison Garden is sealed behind black wrought iron gates.
Photo: biddenhamgardnersassociation.org

Healing gardens and the host of remedies they hold have been around since the Middle Ages, but have you ever heard of a poison garden?

After visiting the Medici poison garden in Italy, Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, decided to create a garden that held an array of deadly plants.

This famous garden can be found within Alnwick Garden in north England, guarded by black iron gates that warn visitors about the inhabitants’ lethal characteristics.

Percy created the garden in 1996 with the help of landscape architect Jacques Wirtz, who had worked on the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens of the French president’s house.

What was once an area of commercial forestry containing rows of Christmas trees was transformed into a 14-acre tourist attraction full of roses bushes and topiaries.

“If you’re building something, especially a visitor attraction, it needs to be something really unique,” Percy told Smithsonian.com. “One of the things I hate in this day and age is the standardization of everything. I thought, ‘Let’s try and do something really different.’”

And so the Poison Garden was born. It now holds more than 100 different types of fatal flora. The duchess only has one requirement for the selected plants and that is that they tell a good story.

“I thought, ‘This is a way to interest children,’” she said. “Children don’t care that aspirin comes from a bark of a tree. What’s really interesting is to know how a plant kills you, and how the patient dies, and what you feel like before you die.”

The garden holds some commonly assumed innocuous inmates, such as laurel hedges, foxgloves, poppies and laburnum, along with exotic executioners like angel’s trumpet, which is one of the duchess’s favorites.

“It’s an amazing aphrodisiac before it kills you,” she said. “(Angel’s trumpet) is an amazing way to die because it’s quite pain-free.”

Over 600,000 people visit Alnwick Garden every year. And though they are warned not to smell, touch or taste any of the plants in the Poison Garden, several guests in the past have fainted from the toxic fumes.

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