When you imagine strolling through an English garden, you may picture greenery all around, birds chirping, bees buzzing, and the sweet smell of roses wafting through the air. Well, you would have to adjust your expectations if you ever plan to visit the Poison Garden at the Alnwick Garden. As the name suggests, the Poison Garden is less than idyllic. It houses around 100 species of toxic plants, most of which are deadly. Though touching, smelling, or tasting these plants are strictly prohibited, some visitors have passed out simply from inhaling the fumes.
Originally established in 1750, the Alnwick Garden fell into disrepair and was closed down after World War II. The garden was renovated and reopened to the public in 2001.
Situated right next to the Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, the Alnwick Garden was originally established by Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke of Northumberland, in 1750. By the end of the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of the 4th Duke, the garden was at its grandest with acres of flowers, avenues of limes, and yew topiary. However, during World War II’s “Dig for Victory” campaign, Alnwick Garden was used for growing crops and providing food. In the 20th century, due to post-war austerity, the garden fell into disrepair and was closed down in 1950.
The revival of the Alnwick Garden began in 1997 at the hands of Jane Percy, the 12th Duchess of Northumberland. With the help of world-renowned landscape architects Jacques and Peter Wirtz, Lady Percy returned the garden to its former glory. Today, it is an astounding complex of contemporary gardens featuring a water cascade, a maze of bamboo tunnels, a cherry orchard, a bar, a restaurant, and one of the biggest treehouses in the world! With a £42 million total development cost, the Alnwick Garden became the most ambitious garden built in the UK since World War II.
The Poison Garden was added to the complex in 2005. It features around 100 different species of intoxicating, toxic, and narcotic plants.
Inspired by the Orto Botanico di Padova in Italy, Lady Percy decided to add a section to the garden complex that would be dedicated entirely to toxic plants. The Poison Garden was added in 2005. Though it is just a part of the Alnwick Garden, it is certainly one of the most popular corners of the complex. Lady Percy believes that learning about the healing properties of plants is not enough. People, especially children, need to learn about how plants can also kill. Familiarizing and educating oneself with lethal plants, many of which often grow naturally in our backyards, is not just crucial but interesting as well.
The Poison Garden currently holds an extensive collection of deadly plants, many of which have been imported from different corners of the world. The most notable species on the list include Strychnos nux-vomica (commonly known as the “strychnine tree,” the source of strychnine), Ricinus communis (the source of castor oil and also the deadly poison called “ricin”), hemlock (which contains toxic alkaloids and is fatal even in small doses), Laburnum (also known as the “golden chain tree”), South American Brugmansia (an amazing aphrodisiac that can also kill), Atropa belladonna (commonly known as “belladonna” or “deadly nightshade”), Foxglove (a beautiful but deadly plant), and many others.
Visitors are not allowed to enter the Poison Garden without a guide.
Upon reaching the entrance of the Poison Garden, you will be greeted by a pair of big black gates with a sign that says “These Plants Can Kill.” Though a fair warning, these words along with the skull and crossbones are not enough to deter visitors from entering. However, you are not allowed to go in without a guide, and there is 24-hour security to ensure that. Inside, you will find detailed information about each plant and its toxicity. Some of the plants are also kept inside cages. You are not allowed to touch, smell, or taste any of the plants. Doing so, as the sign reads, might kill you. In fact, in 2014, seven visitors passed out simply from inhaling the toxic fumes.
One of the most popular attractions in Northumberland, Alnwick Garden receives about 800,000 visitors per year.