Friday, October 31, 2014

The World's Deadliest Garden

It's Hallowe'en today, so in honour of our spooky holiday we present to you the World's Deadliest Garden. A section of the Alnwick Garden in north England holds this distinction and is in fact so deadly that it is only toured under the watchful eye of a guide. Behind its iron gates are a collection of 100 plants that are highly toxic or even downright deadly.

 The main garden of Alnwick Castle is a delightful oasis full of fragrant roses, fountains and lovely topiaries as would befit any tranquil English country seat. (You may recognize the castle: it was the setting for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films). The Duchess of Northumberland decided in 1996 to redo the 14 acres of castle gardens and hired renowned landscape designer Jacques Wirtz.The decision was made to include something very unique—a poison garden, similar to the infamous Medici gardens in Italy. Her request was that each of the plants selected for the Poison Garden had to have a unique and intriguing story. Today the Alnwick Gardens are one of North England's most popular tourist destinations with over 600 visitors a year.

There are so many toxic plants growing in the Poison Garden that visitors are told not to smell, touch or taste any of them. Despite this, a few visitors have fainted just from inhaling fumes from some plants while passing by.

Lily of the Valley

Visitors are most surprised to learn how many common plants growing in home gardens and backyards are toxic, including laurel, lily-of-the-valley, oleander, rhododendron and even apples.
Laurel hedges, for example, can emit toxic fumes that can induce a sleepy state. Lily-of-the-valley with its sweet scent and lovely flowers contains convallitoxin which can cause headaches, hot flashes, hallucinations, swollen hands, and increased heart contractions.


Rhododendron can cause extreme nausea, watery eyes, drooling, comas, seizures and even death. Oleander can cause fatal heart attacks, comas, nausea, and vomiting. Eating too many apple seeds can also make you seriously ill as they can cause a form of cyanide poisoning.  

Angel's Trumpet
There are other even more deadly plants in the Poison Garden, that are less well known. Angel's Trumpet, for example, grows wild in South America.The plant has beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers and fragrant scent but is incredibly toxic, especially its leaves and seeds. Even the pollen can have effects; apparently some Victorian ladies kept a flower on their card tables and add small bits of pollen to their tea to enjoy an "LSD-like" intoxication. In larger does, however, ingestion can cause diarrhea, migraines, paralysis or even death.

If you travel to Alnwick, visit the Poison Garden if you dare! Beware these spooky plants and their deadly potential (but still have fun..!) Happy Hallowe'en!

Poison Garden photos courtesy of Margaret Whittaker

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