In recent times, there has been a new trend in gardening. Something that is, in fact, quite sinister: the poison gardens. While most of us assume these poison gardens were a staple in history, they are a more contemporary nod to gardens of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Times when people depended on plants as medicine.
These Plants Can Kill!
Arguably the most notable modern poison garden is Alnwick Castle. Started in 2005 by English Duchess Jane Percy, this garden is found in the English county of Northumberland. The inspiration sprang from mostly from the legendary gardens in Padua, Italy where the Medicis plotted the untimely ends of their enemies. In this garden, you will find over 100 plants and narcotics, perfectly curated to kill.
The garden, heavily gated and kept under 24-hour surveillance, has deadly flora that you should not even smell, let alone touch or taste. The garden also boasts beautiful paths adorned with narcotic plants such as marijuana, opium poppies and magic mushrooms. Ironically, the primary purpose of Alnwick is education. The most popular guests? School children.
Don’t Get Fooled By Its Appeareance
Some of the most notable plants such as Atropa belladonna produces stunningly appetizing looking juicy berries. But just three small berries would be enough to kill a small child. In times past, women would use the berries in tinctures as eye drops to force pupil dilation, which was thought to be attractive. Hence the name “belladonna”, Italian for a beautiful woman. Slowly, many women would lose their eyesight. The price they were willing to pay for beauty.
Another popular killer is Brugmansia, commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet. A deceitfully beautiful flowering shrub which frequently adorned the Victorian housewife’s table. A little shake of the pollen added to a guest’s tea, and the drinker would begin to loosen up. Too much, however, would cause vivid hallucinations, and eventual death. It is said that prostitutes in Europe to this day use a small amount of pollen in their client’s tea. Giving them vivid hallucinations throughout the night. In the morning, they are left with their pay without doing any of the work.
Stay Away from Magic Potions
The Mandrake grows here too. Made famous by being featured in Harry Potter, the mandrake root resembles a body complete with arms and legs. The plant was said to grow under the gallows of murderers, sprung from the bodily drippings of criminals and to shriek when dug up. The sound would kill a man or drive him insane. So, to avoid this fate, you were supposed to tie a dog to the plant and he would pull it up and die in the man’s place. Little dolls were sometimes made of mandrake roots and kept to aid the household and answer important questions. Possession of one of these mandrake dolls was often used as evidence during witch trials.
One of the world’s deadliest poisons, Ricin, derived from castor beans, grows here as well. It takes the pulp of about eight beans to kill an adult. If the protein is purified from the beans, a very small amount, less than 2 milligrams if injected, will kill a person. That is just about enough to fit on a pinhead. In modern times people have used this method of plant warfare to attempt assassinations of presidents such as Barack Obama.
Poison gardens as a trend?
The trend continues to grow, with the Blarney Castle in Ireland adding a deadly garden and a new generation of enthusiasts growing deadly plants for traveling exhibits such as the Wicked Plants Exhibit. Poison gardens will offer new avenues outside of classrooms to discuss the misuse of drugs and the sheer power of plants. How they have been used to both cure and kill. As the old saying goes “It will either kill you or cure you”. And we living for deadly poison gardens.
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About the Author
Rhiannon Samoyedny is a Florida native. She lives in the Garden Acres subdivision of Oakland Park with her family. Her passion for horticulture started in high school where she took horticulture classes and worked in a garden center after school. Her education continued by self-study and attending many local gardening classes and workshops. Her garden philosophy is to keep it as simple, native and as organic as possible.