One of England’s most beautiful attractions is the Alnwick Garden. It might not be the first one in your bucket list but it definitely deserves a visit. Here one can soak in the beauty of acres of colourful plants, rows of fragrant roses, topiaries and beautiful fountains. Not many would know that within this garden lies a secret place kept behind iron gates. Many of you might wonder what is the need of keeping something in iron gates when there are just beautiful flowers all around. We will tell you the secret. Behind the black iron gates is the ‘Poison Garden’. The word poison might raise many eyebrows. The secret is that the flowerbed behind these bars is home to 100 infamous killers. Visitors are advised not to stop and smell them.
There is a very interesting tale behind this garden. Jane Percy became the Duchess of Northumberland in 1995 after her husband’s brother died unexpectedly. After Jane Percy husband became Duke of Northumberland, a county in northeastern England that stretches to the border with Scotland, came the Alnwick Castle. After family took residence in the castle, Duke told Jane to take care of the gardens. Earlier the area was disused commercial forestry with just rows of Christmas trees.
In 1996, Percy hired Jacques Wirtz, a landscape architect. Jacques has worked with the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens of the French president’s residence. He was hired to reimagine Alnwick Garden. What just had rows of Christmas trees is home to 14 acres of beautiful flowers and topiaries. It attracts almost 6,00,000 visitors each year.
But the story does not end here. The duchess wanted to include an apothecary garden but her plan changed after she went on a trip to Italy. She visited the infamous Medici Poison Garden and was mesmerised with the idea of creating a garden of plants that could kill. She became sure about the idea of creating a garden of lethal plants after her second trip to one of the archeological site of the largest hospital in medieval Scotland, where the duchess learned about soporific sponges soaked in henbane, opium and hemlock used to anesthetise amputees during 15th-century surgeries.
She started collecting poisonous plants for her envisioned Poison Garden. She wanted the plants to tell a good story. She selected almost 100 varieties for her new garden. Most of the time it comes as a surprise to the visitors that the laurel hedges can be highly toxic. There have been stories that after pruned laurel leaves were loaded in the car to take to the dump, drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel of their car from the toxic fumes the branches emit.
These plants are so dangerous that the visitors are prohibited from smelling, touching or tasting any of them. The duchess also grows a variety of drugs, from cannabis to cocaine as part of Posion Garden’s educational mission. One of the duchess’s favourite plants is Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, a member of the Solanaceae family (which includes deadly nightshade) that grows in the wild in South America.
Lead Image Courtesy: Hitched