Wednesday, March 23rd
by Editor, Soiled and Seeded

The Poison Gardens


Some garden paths and bedding schemes have been conceived not to offer charm or sunny comfort, but to chronicle a dark and sinister side of the plant world. Stepping among crocus, castor bean, foxglove and lily-of-the-valley is to brush up against a particularly noxious and often deadly garden history.

Whether grown in the garden, arranged as a dining table showpiece or thriving by the wayside, many familiar plants carry a stock of toxic compounds that can incur sickness and death upon ingestion. Of course, humans have exploited this side of plants for centuries. The Medici family cultivated many species of poisonous plants in their gardens, providing an effective arsenal with which to dispose of their enemies.

For those interested in exploring the capabilities of the plant kingdom, there is one contemporary toxic garden open to the public. The Poison Garden at Alnwick, UK boasts 100 varieties of toxic plants displayed in flame-shaped beds and some caged to discourage foragers. On hand are deadly nightshade, hemlock (responsible for the death of Socrates), henbane, giant hogweed, mandrake, cannabis and coca. For these botanicals, the only difference between narcotic, medicine and poison is dose. Foxglove is the source of digitalis, a drug used to treat congestive heart failure. However, there is a fine line between a therapeutic and deadly dose. The ancient Greeks recognized the complexity - the word pharmakon means both remedy and poison.

Guided by European monastic medicinal gardens, a Paris-based architectural firm conceived of The Garden of Earthly Delights, a rolling greenhouse and ancillary garden showcasing the astounding variety of plants: medicines, poisons and antidotes employed during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods.

No calming retreats perhaps, but these gardens offer a thrilling arena of history, lore and botanical exploits.




Source: Derry Moore (NYTimes) and R&Sie(n)


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