Friday, June 10, 2005


Why there'll always be an England..

I heard this on The World on the radio yesterday and it cracked me up for some reason:

Poison Garden: "Northumberland's biggest tourist attraction is Alnwick Castle. And it's in one of castle's gardens where you'll find the poisonous plants. This sinister green space was the idea of the Duchess of Northumberland. The Duchess -- who used be called Jane Percy before she married the Duke of Northumberland -- says she finds traditional English gardens a bit boring.

Duchess of Northumberland: 'Well I just felt that in England and actually around the world, we concentrate very much on apothecary gardens and I think that most children are interested in how many berries you can eat before you keel over, and how long and painful the death is, and they're not really interested in how that plant can cure you, but in reality the line between kill and cure is very, very close.'

Killing can be compelling. Alison Harmer is the garden of Alnwick Castle's poison garden. She guides visitors on tours of the garden and points out plants that long ago acquired bad, very bad reputations:

Alison Harmer: 'We've got Strychnine, and Opium which becomes heroin, followed by Aconite, and let me tell you this beautiful garden flower is known as weapon of mass destruction, it was used in ancient Greece to rid people of unwanted elderly relatives, on the island of Saros, and it doesn't specify how old were expected to drink the poison Aconite to rid the families of the burden of old age. But it was also used to poison wells by invading armies, it's really one of the swiftest acting poisons known to man, a really poisonous little beast.'

The gardeners have taken precautions to make sure none of these plants go missing. Leaf plucking is strictly forbidden. And the security doesn't end there, says the Duchess.

Duchess of Northumberland: "Many of the plants were real killers and they have to be under lock and key. We have to have people watching the plants and watching children to make sure they're not touching plants or pocketing a berry here and berry there to get rid of their schoolmates."

Killing isn't all these plants can do. Garden keeper Alison Harmer says that many of these plants, when used properly, can actually help cure some afflictions. Case in point, wormwood.

Alison Harmer: "People used to make a tea to expel worms from the gut, also it was put into a drink, very popular in France in 1800's in absynth called the Green Fairy. And at the moment its in clinical trials to see if this plant may help malaria."

Thanks to The Duchess of Northumberland's green -- if somewhat eccentric -- thumb, the plants used to make these and other notorious poisons are growing tall for all to see.

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