The warning is clear: “These plants can kill!” is written on the entrance gate, with a skull and crossbones emblazoned next to it. Alnwick’s Poison Garden, set in the Northumberland countryside of north-east England, is arguably the most dangerous garden in the world.
Why is it that the gardens of the world always focus on the healing effects of plants instead of the deadly ones? Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, didn’t understand. “Whereas most children are more interested in how a plant kills,” she is quoted as saying on the Poison Gardens website , “how long it takes to die after eating it. And how horrible and painful it must be to die.”
The Duchess of Northumberland must have been at least keenly interested in questions like this or she would not have ensured that Alnwick’s new gardens had their own poisons section. More than 100 poisonous plants can be admired here today. For example, deadly nightshade, whose poison attacks the nervous system. Even a small amount can cause death. Or Ricinus communis , the plant from which the poisonous ricin is extracted, which kills an adult in a very cruel way: nausea, vomiting and convulsions are followed by the decomposition of the kidney, liver and spleen.
The spotted aroid is very poisonous in all parts of the plant. Small children in particular are at risk from eating the berries. The ingredients are still largely unknown. The main active ingredient is said to be aroin.
Alnwick Poison Garden only with guide
With so much killer potential, nobody is allowed to stroll alone through the poisonous garden, but only with a guide in the group. This is not only advisable for safety reasons, but also to learn the history of the poisonous plants, which usually look rather harmless. In addition, the guide provides answers to all the questions asked above: How poisonous are the plants really? Who has died from it? How long does the suffering last?
Incidentally, the history of the gardens themselves is also fascinating. They were laid out as early as 1750 – by the first Duke of Northumberland – and have been cared for and expanded over the centuries. The third duke, for example, was an avid plant collector. He brought seeds and cuttings from all over the world and grew pineapples in the greenhouse. But during the Second World War, the beds and greenhouses were used for other purposes: for fruit and vegetables, for fruits and herbs. After that the facility fell into disrepair. In 1950 the gardens were closed.
With tree house and bamboo labyrinth
In the mid-1990s, the intention was to create parking spaces on the site of the former gardens. But Duchess Jane Percy had other plans – and with the help of her husband, the Duke of Northumberland, as well as numerous donations and an army of volunteers, the new gardens at Alnwick came into being, the UK’s most ambitious garden project since the Second World War. The attraction cost a total of 42 million pounds.
In 2001 the first part was officially opened. The focal point is a mighty cascade, every minute 33,000 liters of water fall down the 21 barrages. There was also a labyrinth made of bamboo and a large tree house with the restaurant. And of course: numerous plants. There are more than 16,000 in the Ornamental Garden alone. 3,000 different types of roses bloom in the rose garden, including special breeds such as the double-headed, pink Alnwick Rose. The poison garden, opened in 2005, is located in the eastern part.