Lady Auriol Linlithgow and gardener Andrea Atherton in the poison garden
Gardener Andrea Atherton takes a break from tending a large, beautiful Angels Trumpet shrub. She says she is particularly susceptible to the sweet aroma from the bold white trumpets which makes her feel ‘a bit strange’ after a while.
Some cultures have used Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet’s Latin name) as a treatment for unruly children. It has also been used to drug wives and slaves before burying them alive with their dead lord.
The intoxicating plant is just one of 76 different species of potentially dangerous plants in the Poison Garden at Bryngwyn Hall, in Llanfyllin, 12 miles from Oswestry. The deceptively beautiful but potentially deadly fenced-off garden is a project that forms part of Bryngwyn Hall’s picturesque nine acres of garden, set in 60 acres of oak-studded parkland.
The gardens have been developed by Lady Linlithgow, who inherited the derelict house and gardens in 1989; it had previously lain empty for six decades.
“A lot of the gardening was initially done by digger,” laughs Lady L, as she is known by all her staff and volunteers.
Lady L and gardener Andrea have worked together over the past four years to gradually develop the gardens. The most recent addition is the Poison Garden which opened this year.The idea apparently came about when Lady Linlithgow got a bit cavalier in her approach to foraging and almost poisoned herself and guests in the process.
“After a foraging course, I was tempted to pop some delicious smelling tomato leaves into a salad. Instinct stopped me at the last minute and I looked them up to find that tomato was one of the Solanaceae family which Deadly Nightshade is also part of. Potato, aubergine and peppers share the same toxins too.”
The nine-acre garden also has an abundance of ricin, a beautiful but highly toxic plant.
“For many years we’ve grown ricin in the herbaceous border. I think it was my son who first remarked how many poisonous plants we had,” says Lady L. “His comment inspired me to create a dedicated Poison Garden including Ricin, Deadly Nightshade, Poison Ivy and many less obvious suspects.”
With a backdrop of twisted juniper branches and a skull and cross bones at the entrance gate, first impressions give the garden an air of witchcraft and fear. But Andrea and Lady L laugh and insist that witches are barred.
“At the entrance, we have planted pots with box hedge which folklore says deters witches,” says Lady L.
Both women have clearly spent much time growing plants from seed and researching the science, myths and legends behind their flowers, berries and bulbs. Andrea is particularly interested in the fact that many of the poisonous plants also have healing properties if taken in the right quantities. For example, Aristolochia, or Birthwort, a carcinogen and kidney toxin, was once used to ease the pain of childbirth.
Many of the plants are common in your average cottage garden, such as foxgloves, lupin, rhubarb, peony and daffodils.
“Most of the common garden plants are only dangerous if you consume a significant amount,” says Andrea.
Growing dangerous plants means that the duo have had to be careful, not just for their own and visitor safety, but also about raising suspicious with authorities: “We have had to justify our purchases of ricin seeds to officials and we are not allowed to grow controlled substances such as marijuanas,” says Andrea.
In keeping with the rest of the gardens, the Poison Garden has resting places to sit and admire the peace, tranquility and beauty of the lethal flora. Surrounded by such natural beauty, you couldn’t feel further from harm.
The garden and house are open for tours, charity open days, events and residential weekends by appointment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07967 821191.