Step into the Alnwick Garden, and you'll be greeted with a strange sight: a pair of massive iron gates, marked with a skull and crossbones and a stark warning: "These Plants Can Kill." It's not just for decoration, either. This special section is truly the world's most dangerous garden. Behind those gates you'll find over a hundred different poisonous plants, some of which can kill with a taste, a touch, or even a sniff. Even though there are other poisonous gardens in the world, the impressive variety represented in the Alnwick poison garden makes it the most toxic garden ever... and you can visit, if you dare.
Although tours are limited and safety instructions are clear, visitors have felt how just how poisonous this section of the Alnwick Garden it can be. People have fainted after breathing in too deeply, and certain plants are so dangerous that they are kept in cages to avoid an accidental touch. But it remains a popular destination, especially with children. In fact, the garden was designed by the Duchess of Northumberland partially with educating youngsters in mind.
Curious about how plants kill, and how it feels to die after being dosed by their toxins? This beautiful, but deadly garden should be your dream destination. Of course, the hope is that you won't wind up finding out about the flora's fatal effects first-hand.
Most of Alnwick Garden's fourteen acres are completely safe to stroll through. But then there's the gated poison garden. Over a hundred live poisonous plants are cultivated behind those barricades, some of which can kill with just a touch or taste. The collection includes well-known deadly plants like foxgloves, deadly nightshade, and hemlock, as well as some surprising specimens. Seemingly innocent plants like daffodils and laurels also have toxic properties.
Because the park is so frequently visited by families, the gates are only open to guided tours. Constant supervision is the best way for the garden's staff to avoid dangerous accidents.
If you dare enter the poison garden, you have to follow very specific instructions. Parents have to keep close watch on their children, and your small group of no more than 20 will be monitored by a tour guide at all times. Before you even begin, you will be told not to taste, touch, or even smell any of the plants you see. Some give off fumes and pollen that can make you sick, or possibly even kill you.
The garden's staff may seem overly cautious, but even with those rules in place, accidents still happen. In one summer, seven people reportedly fainted after simply breathing in too deeply around the toxic plants.
Besides teaching the public about poisons, the garden also serves a secondary purpose. The Duchess of Northumberland wanted to send an anti-drug message to visitors, by showing the plants used in illicit substances and discussing what they do to your body. To achieve this, she got a special permit for the garden that allows her to grow cannabis, magic mushrooms, opium poppies, and even coca, which can be made into cocaine. These plants are kept locked up in a cage and monitored with a camera.
The duchess is fascinated by the intertwined history of plants and drug use:
"Victorian ladies used to sit around a table with a datura plant in the middle and play cards or have tea. They’d pop their cup under a bell, tap it, and pollen would fall into the cup. They would experience similar effects to that of LSD."
Gardeners need to know how to water plants, weed plots, and ensure abundant growth. The groundskeepers at the poison garden, however, require some additional knowledge. Because they work so closely with plants that can kill with a touch or a sniff, they have to be careful not to wind up sickened themselves. They must undergo special training and wear gloves at all times, and may even have to wear masks in certain areas of the garden.
But even with all the risks, head gardener Trevor Jones still has a soft spot for the plants. Jones recovered from leukemia thanks to a medicine derived from Madagascar periwinkle, which he now cares for in the poison garden. He pays special attention to the periwinkle, and gives the plant extra plant food when he has the chance.