Within the boundaries of the wonderful Alnwick Garden complex in the historic Northumberland County in northeast England and behind big and black iron gates, an English Duchess created a separate garden, dedicated entirely to flora, which are deadly. It is a poison garden that houses one hundred legendary infamous killers, where the visitors are explicitly told not to stop or touch the plants or smell the flowers.
The Alnwick Gardens has a long history, as the formal gardens had been planted in that spot by the first duke of Northumberland in 1750. However, the picture changed in 1995, when Jane Percy, mother of four, suddenly became the Duchess of Northumberland, as her husband unexpectedly became the twelfth Duke of Northumberland following the untimely death of his brother. After the family took up residence in the Alnwick castle, Percy's husband asked her to do something novel with the gardens, which at that time had nothing but rows and rows of Christmas trees.
Jane Percy took the challenge and in 1996, she hired a reputed landscape architect, Jacques Wirtz, who had the experience to work with the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens of the French president's residence. Wirtz transformed the gardens encompass 14 acres into a wonderland, which now attract over 600,000 visitors each year.
However, the Duchess had something more in her mind. She was not satisfied, as she wanted to create something different. At first she thought to create a garden for medicinal herbs, but a trip to Italy set her on a different course.
As she visited the estate of the Medici family in Padua, she became excited with the idea of creating a garden of plants that could kill instead of healing. Accordingly, the duchess started to select and collect poisonous plants for her envisioned Poison Garden, which was opened in 2005 as just a portion of the ambitious 14-acre new gardens.
The Alnwick Poison Garden boasts 100 varieties of toxic plant, which include, among others, Strychnos nux-vomica, which is a major source of the highly poisonous, intensely bitter strychhine, brucine and other poisonous compounds; Atropa belladonna, commonly known as Deadly Nightshade; Brugmansia, whose large bell-shaped flowers are commonly known as the angel’s trumpets and Laburnum, sometimes called golden chain or golden rain.
Proper caution is taken for the safety of the visitors, as most are unaware that some most common plants are killers. Often they are surprised to learn that the laurel hedge can be highly toxic.
However, the duchess reported that after loading up their trucks with pruned laurel leaves to take to the dump, some drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel of their car from the toxic fumes the branches emit.