Alnwick Poison Gardens

As the black signs studded with skull and bones warn you at the entrance: “These Plants Can Kill.” With over 100 varieties of deadly plants, the Alnwick Poison Gardens that flourish alongside Alnwick Castle in England are an impressive demonstration of fatal botanicals, from deadly nightshade to hemlock to strychnine.   

Alnwick Poison Gardens(photograph by Jo Jakeman/Flickr)

The garden is the creation of the Duchess of Northumberland. As she explained: ”I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill… I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be.”

For some examples, deadly nightshade, although it was once used as a to dilate women’s eyes as a mark of beauty, causes a horrible thirst, hallucinations, and eventually a coma and convulsions for those who eat its inviting berries. Hemlock, a favorite poison for executions in ancient Greece, including that of Socrates, attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis. And then there’s strychnine, that is easily masked in alcohol or hot drinks, which leads to convulsions with an arched back until the victims die with permanent grins stretched across their faces. 

Alnwick Poison GardensPoppies in the garden (photograph by Eugene Regis/Flickr)

Everyone who enters the gardens must be accompanied by a guide, but all the same you are warned to not touch, and not even smell, the plants. Some are kept caged as they’re so fatal, or hallucinogenic. The Duchess got government permission to grow plants like cannabis, opium poppies, magic mushrooms, and coca. It’s all accessed under a mist ejected by a copper snake, and appropriately the tip collector is a coffin. 


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