Archive for the ‘October’ Category

The Poison Garden

Halloween is just around the corner and there are all sorts of local pumpkin tours, corn mazes and haunted houses to visit. However, if someone has enough money (or a credit card with a substantial credit balance) and they want to experience the darker side of gardening nothing could be creepier than visiting a poison garden in Northern England!
Alnwick Castle (filmed as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films) provides the perfect Halloween backdrop to this educational garden full of mystery and intrigue. The guided tour of The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens is a place where trained guides share fascinating myths, legends and truths of how plants have killed and cured throughout the ages.
Jane, the Duchess of Northumberland is responsible for creating the poison garden and she has had to overcome a lot of criticism and red tape to make her vision a reality. She even received (after much red tape and bureaucracy) special Home Office approval and licensing to grow drugs in the garden. This includes marijuana (the first of which was apparently stolen by a local enthusiast), opium plants and magic mushrooms. These plants now reside in cages to discourage people from trying to obtain free samples. The Poison Garden also includes some of the world’s most venomous and hallucinogenic plants, some so potentially dangerous that they are incarcerated in wrought iron cages as well. Additionally, there is around the clock surveillance to guard the safety of the public against potential terrorists, poisoners and would be drug enthusiasts.
I know your thinking to yourself… was she able to get a license to grow drugs!
Well…..arrangements were made for The Poison Garden to work with the Education Department’s Drug Awareness Team so they could develop programs using the plants to deliver a unique drug awareness message. For instance there is a humorous sign in the caged marijuana that says Keep off the Grass! What can I say, England seems to have a sense of humor when it comes to running a Drug Awareness Program that some countries (not mentioning any names but you know who you are) are lacking. Other drug awareness programs should take note: NO ONE LIKES TO READ YOUR BORING DRUG AWARENESS PAMPHLETS! People only read them when they are stuck waiting at a hospital or doctor’s office with no internet access and nothing else to read. And let’s face it how often does that happen.
However, it seems that people will actually pay to take an educational guided tour of a garden that contains both drugs and poisonous plants. The Poison Garden’s appeal of danger and illicit drugs is exactly what lures people to engage in a fascinating educational experience about the darker side of gardening.
The tour begins with a trained guide in front of a large set of locked spider and poison ivy covered wrought iron gates. Garden guides unlock the gates and issue a stern warning at the outset of tours: “Do not touch any of the plants. There are plants here that can kill you.” Once the giant gates have been locked behind you there are cobblestone paths through the ivy-covered tunnels that open up into a courtyard filled with flame-shaped beds containing poisonous plants. Ironically, poisonous plants are usually the most beautiful ones in the garden and like weeds, tend to grow prolifically.
Some of the deadly plants you may come across in The Poison Garden are:

Deadly Nightshade-it is one of the most toxic plants found in the Western hemisphere. Just three of the sweet-tasting berries (known as Satan’s cherries) are enough to kill.
Bearded Darnel-a poisonous grass that increases it’s danger by attracting the toxic fungus Ergot.
Castor Bean Plants-considered the most deadly of all natural poisons, ricin was extracted from castor beans for chemical warfare in World War I. It’s potency proved it too risky for both sides and it is rarely used now except by terrorists.
Hemlock-used for ancient Greece’s compulsory suicides, most famously by Socrates. Rapid physical deterioration is accompanied by the mind remaining clear to the end.
Strychnine-also known as Quaker’s Button, is the source of the poison curare. The most dramatic symptom of being poisoned by strychnine is a posthumous fixed grin.
Henbane-in the right dosage it will take someone to the doors of death, but not through them. The victim will look convincingly dead, but will most likely recover.

You will also learn that some of the most common gardening plants such as Foxglove, Datura, Hydrangeas and Lily of the Valley are extremely poisonous and could endanger children or pets. So you may actually have your own Poison Garden growing and not even know it! If this is an issue for you (due to kids and animals who never listen) then check Google for poisonous plant lists (or go all old school to the library) to help you identify what poisonous plants are growing in your yard.
Then the choice is yours- you can  either remove all the poisonous plants or start putting cages around them and charging admission. Just an idea for your closed garden Mr. Brian Minter!
Note-I would recommend obtaining government approval and a license (or at least have bail money on hand) before trying to grow drugs for “educational” purposes!

Have a Safe and Happy Halloween!

Brenda DyckA Guerilla Gardener on an Adventure!




October Guerilla GardenerGothic Gardens

During the fall, front gardens and porches take on a variety of stunning autumn decorating themes. For the traditionalist harvest types nothing says “fall” like scarecrows, mums, Indian corn, gourds, pumpkins and straw bales, where as hard core Halloween types will choose to decorate with witches, spiders, ghosts and other Halloween scary type things.

However, being a Guerrilla Gardener you might be interested in trying something a little different by creating a Gothic Garden. As the name implies, it lends itself to an understated elegance in a slightly macabre style sometimes laced with a sense of humor. If you’re having a hard time visualizing this just imagine what it would look like if Tim Burton created a garden and then you’ll get the idea!

Since Halloween is fast approaching, you can instantly transform your existing garden to a Gothic one by merely adding a few accessories. Stone gargoyles, a moon dial, or small spot lights to highlight a beloved pet’s grave or any especially “creepy” corner of the garden are all excellent choices for a Gothic Garden.  By adding wrought iron fencing, concrete urns, or any other decorative concrete or wrought iron accessories you can give the illusion of “creepiness”, without actually visually stating it.

The key to any good Gothic Garden is a sense of understated intrigue. Sometimes it’s so understated it may take you a while to notice the slightly dark details. You may notice that there are no pastel colors to be seen and there is a slightly sinister looking gargoyle peeking at you from behind some midnight-black Mondo Grass.

Black plants are stunning in the Gothic Garden. Although they are not always a true black, like Morticia Adams they’re dark, they’re sophisticated and they’re sexy. They provide a dramatic focal point, and make the perfect backdrop for white flowers in a moonlit garden.

And if you’re still not convinced that black can be beautiful check out some of the following:

Black Hollyhock (Alcea rosea Nigra)

A must for Guerilla Gothic Gardens! Impressive, deep purple-maroon to black flowers that are displayed on spikes that tower 5 – 8 feet in height. Hollyhocks are not only easy to grow from seed, they often re-seed themselves. The seeds are very prolific making it a good candidate for collecting seeds to make seed bombs or for sprinkling in random ditches and vacant lots. Note: Staking maybe required in windy places. If it falls over before you get a chance to do this prop it back up and cut it off below the “kink” in the stalk.

Black Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri)

Outlandish and bizarre, the Black Bat Flower appears down right creepy. Foot-long “whiskers” dangle from large, purple-brown, nearly-black bracts that form the illusion of a bat hanging upside down. This is not a cheap or easy plant to grow or even find but if you’re up to the challenge it’s better to have bats in your garden than bats in your belfry. This make an excellent gift for that guerilla gardener who has everything.

Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘nigrescens)

Fairly expensive, not easy to find, and never on sale this unique black-bladed perennial grass is suitable for Vampire and Goth Gardens alike.

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

Not a black blossom, but included here because this annual twining vine has flowers that open at dusk and blooms throughout the night. The fragrant white blossoms reach up to 6 inches across and are well suited to a summer Gothic moonlit garden.

Black Annuals:

‘Black Gem’ cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

‘Penny Black’ baby blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii)

‘Ace of Spades’ pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea)

‘Black Dragon’ or ‘Inky Fingers’ coleus (Solenostemon)

Black Perennials:

‘Obsidian’ coral bells (Heuchera)

‘Magpie’ Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

‘Sooty’ Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus Nigrescens)

Black Bulbs:

‘Black Magic’ elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta)

‘Queen of Night’ tulip (Tulipa)

‘Black Form’ Iris (Iris chrysographes ‘Black Form’)

So embrace your Guerilla Garden Dark Side!
Plan for next year by ordering the plants and seeds to create your Guerilla  Gothic Garden and be sure to check out thrift stores and garage sales for Tim Burton inspired accessories.