“All the plants in this place have the ability to kill you. So it is better not to touch them, not smell them, not eat them, or stand too close to them ”. This is how one of the specialized guides who accompany tourists on their way through the dangerous “Garden of Poison”, a property located on the estate of majestic Alnwick Castle, in the north east of England.
As its name implies, this beautiful garden, which can only be accessed with an experienced guide, has inside a hundred plants that are poisonous. Many of them, even fatal. This is warned by the sign that is attached to the black iron doors that prevent the passage to the place. “These plants can kill you,” reads the sign accompanied by a skull with two crossbones behind it, the universal sign of ‘poison’.
The unique idea of creating a garden with pure plants that can harm whoever contacts them was born to Jane Percy, who is the Duchess of the county of Northumberland, in the northeast of England, and who is also the owner of Alnwick Castle, an imposing medieval building that functioned, among other things, as a setting for legendary films such as Harry Potter or Robin Hood starring Kevin Costner.
The Poison Garden is born
When the Duchess took over the castle in 1995, she intended to recondition its huge gardens, which were in a state of neglect. He then hired the prestigious landscaper Jacques Wirtz -who had worked in the Jardin des Tuileries-, to redesign the almost 6 hectares of park that surrounded the building.
Today these gardens are one of the most treasured tourist attractions in the north of England. Before the pandemic they were visited by about 600,000 people a year.
But the beauty of the place, with so many greens, plants, fountains and flowers, was missing something else. Percy wanted to put something on his property that is truly unique and different. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, the Duchess of Northumberland conceived the idea of creating her poisonous plantation after visiting the Medici garden in Florence, Italy, where toxic species were also grown.
Paradoxically, the Duchess believed that her creation could be interesting for the little ones. “I thought, ‘This is a way to interest children.’ They don’t care that the aspirin comes from the bark of a tree. What is really interesting is knowing how a plant kills you, how the patient dies and how you feel before dying ”, Percy explained to the aforementioned American media.
And so it was that he began to take charge of collecting poisonous plants from all over the world. The importance of the species he gathered had to lie, not only in their toxicity, but also in their being able to tell a good story. That is why its Garden of Poison has also become an attractive place, not only for lovers of botany, but also for those who like good stories.
Dean Smith, one of the specialized guides of the Poison Garden, told, for the German signal DW, that the species that are planted in that place, “They can irritate your skin, upset your stomach, and some can actually kill you.”
It is not necessary to touch or eat local plants to be affected by them. Some work just by smelling them. That is why, to water and care for these species, Alnwick gardeners must wear protective gear that completely covers their bodies. In fact, in recent years, several visitors have fainted just from getting close to smell certain specimens.
And, in addition, tourists who walk through the doors with skulls are always strongly urged not to leave the children alone for anything in the place.
Some of the plants in this risky garden are truly scary. One of them, monkshood, which is known as wolf killer, can kill a person just by touching it. “First you will feel an anthill in your mouth and tongue, and then it will be too late,” said guide Smith.
The laburnum, or shower of gold, is, according to Smith, the second most poisonous tree in Great Britain. “Just eating 3 or 4 little pods hanging from its branches is enough to end a child’s life,” Smith said.
But the Garden of Poison also has an educational mission. The duchess grows a variety of drugs there, from cannabis to cocaine (derived from the leaves of the coca plant), which she and the garden guides use as a starting point for drug education. “It is a way of educating children without realizing that they are being educated,” said the woman.
Returning to the killer species, one of the Duchess’s favorite plants is Brugmansia, or “angel’s trumpet,” a member of the nightshade family (which includes the deadly nightshade) that grows in the wild in South America.
“It is an amazing aphrodisiac before it kills you,” the duchess told the aforementioned American media. He also explained that Victorian women often kept a flower from the plant on their gaming tables and added small amounts of its pollen to their tea to incite an LSD-like trip.
“The ‘angel’s trumpet’ is an amazing way to die because it is quite painless,” added Percy. “Ultimately, most of the plants they kill are quite interesting,” concluded the Duchess.
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