All is not as it seems in the beautiful garden. Danger lurks. Someone has murder on their mind. In Agatha Christie’s detective fiction, A Pocket Full of Rye, the dastardly murderer brews up a batch of yew leaves. Adds it to a pot of marmalade. And it was toast for the unsuspecting victim.
The yew trees rotten reputation was saved in the l960s when an extract from the plant was discovered to have tumour-fighting compounds and was developed into cancer medication.
The castor bean is another baddie. It contains a deadly toxin ricin. It put an end to the writing and everything else for journalist and communist defector Georgi Markov. His vitriolic comments ended when a pellet containing ricin was fired into his leg by an umbrella wielding assassin associated with the Bulgarian Secret Police.
The euphorbia belongs to the same family as the caster bean but it is a more kindly cousin. It’s not deadly, just plain irritating. Its milky sap can cause rash or welts, and the leaves and flowers can irritate the skin and eyes.
One must admire this heavenly blue perennial splashing its colour along herbaceous borders each summer. But beware. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It goes by two names, monkshood and wolfsbane. The entire plant is very dangerous to touch and to eat. Its poison (aconitine) was originally used to kill wolves. It will cause numbness and stop the heart! Arm yourself. Wear gloves when handling the plant and keep it out of reach of unsuspecting guests.
Dog lovers beware of the flirty, beguiling cyclamen. All parts of it cause severe discomfort if ingested by humans, and can bring on convulsions and paralysis in dogs.
Snowdrops. The little darlings of spring. So delicate, sweet and assuming. But one must take great care when planting. The bulbs may irritate the skin, and cause a mild tummy upset if eaten. It can happen if forgetful gardeners drying onions in their sheds confuse the two bulbs. Yes, it has been known to happen. Where were their heads?
Without alliums in the kitchen food would be pretty ho hum. Garlic, onions, chives and leeks are deliciously edible for us but be wary of the ornamental types. They flaunt their gorgeous heads of colour but they can be nasty and cause skin allergies. All parts of ALL alliums are poisonous to cats and dogs. They contain a chemical that causes anemia and is toxic in high doses.
They trumpet their exotic outrageous beauty in the most magnificent manner. Tall, stately amaryllis command attention . Beware of these beauties if you are a dog owner. The sap and bulb are poisonous. It can cause mild tummy upset in humans. But they can be fatal for dogs bringing on lethargy, shock and coma.
The list goes on. Every part of the foxglove is quite poisonous. The good news is that its properties are used to make the cardiac drug Digitalis. The red berries of the holly we adorn our home with at Christmas are unpleasant. If eaten by dogs can cause tremors, seizures and loss of balance, and give children a serious tummy ache. Consider yourself warned! There’s more than one hundred dangerous plants growing in gardens and fields.
For a walk on the wild side you can visit a poison garden in Northumberland, England. The Duchess of Northumberland took a little trip to Italy. Instead of a souvenir mini statue of David she brought back the concept of a poison garden. The Medici Poison Garden in Padua was the inspiration for the”world’s most dangerous garden”, The Alnwick Garden. You’ll know you are in the right place when you see the locked gate embellished with skulls and crossbones. Mind how you go and stay close to the guide.
HIPPEASTRUM (Amaryllis) ACONITUM (Monkshood, Wolfsbane) ILEX (Holly ) EUPHORBIA (Spurge) TAXUS (Yew) GALANTHUS (Snowdrop) CYCLAMEN (now you know one Latin plant name) ) ALLIUM (and a second)