In Europe’s deadliest garden grow more than 100 killer species

A skull and crossbones sign welcomes visitors to Alnwick Gardens, they are only allowed to look but if life is expensive they must not smell, touch and taste

800,000 tourists flock to Alnwick Castle in northern Britain each year. Called the Versailles of the North, it attracts like a magnet not only because of its harsh and mystical beauty, but also because in its huge park it hides something irresistible for any lover of a good detective novel – the garden the deadliest in Europe, also known as the garden of poisons.

A few miles north of Newcastle, late 11th and early 12th century Alnwick is familiar to much TV and film because

the imposing fortress is featured in the pictures from the series “Downton Manor”, as well as in two of the films about the young wizard – “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

Behind a towering black metal fence that greets visitors with the words “These Plants Kill”, eloquently illustrated by a skull and crossbones, the Poison Garden is home to over 100 species from around the world that are alluringly beautiful but deadly dangerous. Jane Percy, who in 1995 became Duchess of Northumberland after her husband inherited the title and the castle, was the author of the unusual idea. The new owner asks him to take care of the park, which until then is just a forest with rows of well-arranged trees.

In 1996, Percy hired Jacques Wirtz, a Belgian landscape architect credited with renovating the Jardin des Tuileries and the Palais de l’Elysée in Paris. He draws plans for a garden of 3,000 roses, a “snake garden” with tortoise-shaped bushes, a maze of bamboo and the famous garden of poisonous plants.

At first, the Duchess wanted to make a special place for medicinal herbs, but after visiting the botanical garden of Padua of the Medici family – one of the most famous poisoners of the second half of the 15th century, the idea came to her. “for something really completely different”, she confides in front of the magazine “Smithsonian”.

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“If you decide to build something, especially a tourist attraction, you have to make it really unique,” ​​adds the aristocrat. – One of the things I hate the most is the standardization of everything. So I thought I should do something completely unusual.

By carefully selecting deadly species, apart from the mandatory requirement that they can thrive on British soil,

Jane Percy insisted that each root tell its own interesting story. After all, the garden opened in 2004. So tourists can not only see what green killers look like, but also learn about the legends and historical facts that brought them sinister fame.

“The amazing thing about poisonous species is that they are common and common in nature, but people don’t know about them and don’t realize what can happen to them sometimes just by touching them,” said added the Duchess. Visitors were surprised to learn, for example, that oleander, found in many gardens, is highly poisonous.

Behind the black fence, visitors must be especially careful as they navigate through hedgerows of highly poisonous laurel, deadly nightshade and hemlock – swallowed by Socrates to be put to death, as well as castor bean bushes, including a single seed results in complete rejection of all organs. Not to mention the beautiful brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, which is the Duchess’ favorite flower.

“It’s an amazing aphrodisiac that then takes you to the afterlife. In Victorian times, women would leave one of the angel’s trumpet flowers in the middle of the card table. They put their glasses under the bell, tapped it lightly so that a little pollen fell into the drink. The effect was like LSD,” says Lady Percy.

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Next to the strong ogres, there is also a drug square, where opium, cannabis, coca, hallucinogenic mushrooms grow. They are cultivated with a special permit so that visitors of the younger generation can have their misdeeds and the dangers they represent explained to them.

There are free guided tours of the gardens every 10-15 minutes, and the entrance ticket is €30 for adults and €12.50 for children over 5 years old. From the end of March to the end of October, they are open until 6 p.m.

Gardeners tending to all of these species wear special protective clothing and gloves and are required to observe a number of precautions. Guests can only watch, but it is absolutely forbidden to touch, smell or, God forbid, taste. The most dangerous poisons are kept in cages, and there is also 24/7 surveillance with cameras.

However, a few years ago, an incident occurred. The young people managed to tear off a few oleander leaves as a souvenir. A few minutes later, the driver and passengers fell asleep under the effect of toxic fumes from the leaves and caused an accident.

As well as the Poison Gardens, Alnwick Castle is also known for a sinister legend. According to legends, in the Middle Ages, an ugly vampire-like creature roamed it, as it sucked blood and spread diseases. He tormented the townspeople for years before they managed to kill him and bury him in the dungeons of the fortress.

PHOTO: A skull and bones sign on the garden’s black fence warns of lurking dangers / Pixabay

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