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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 21st June 2011

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

Atropa belladonna flowers

It occurred to me, even while I was still writing about my tribulations with Fritillaria imperialis and Aconitum napellus, that I should try and write something more positive about the garden because I do seem to have a fair few successes as well as the failures detailed earlier in the week.

Of course, defining success depends on where you set the standard and I’m the first to admit I set the bar fairly low. This means that, if a plant comes up looking healthy and produces a pleasing flower, I’m not too concerned about whether I planted it myself or if it has appeared as a result of the action of the wind or some bird.

Vebascum x hybrida 'Southern Charm'

Verbascum x hybrida 'Southern Charm'

I’ve just realised that this entry is going to be more of a picture story than a blog post because I think you may as well see these successes for yourself. I could, at this point, quote that well-known saying about pictures and words but, as Stephen Fry once said, I abhor cliché and avoid it like the plague.

One success that I do claim full credit for is the Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade. My three plants are now producing a good crop of flowers and, if we ever get some warmth, they should turn into a good showing of the juicy black berries. I’m not sure how much sun the plant needs. It is supposed to grow better in partial shade and, certainly, a few years ago when I had it in full sun it didn’t last. The plants I have now are more shaded so we’ll have to see what that does to the berries.

Vebascum olympicum, Greek mullein

Verbascum olympicum

Mention of the lack of warmth, so far, brings up the problem of what to do about tall plants and weather damage. I don’t have a consistent policy on staking. Some plants I will tie up so that the weight of the flowers doesn’t drag them down. Others, I either choose not destroy their natural progress or, more likely, just can’t be bothered to stake and tie up.

We’ve had some fairly heavy rain in the last few days and it has taken its toll. A lot of people, I’m sure, would clear away the fallen stems and ‘tidy up’ but I’m inclined to leave things alone, at least until the flowers die, because I think you can get surprising beauty from, say, a fallen Digitalis, foxglove.

Digitalis, foxglove

Digitalis, foxglove

Weather affected foxgloves

It seems hard to predict what will happen to plants in bad weather, even plants of the same genus. My Verbascum x hybrida ‘Southern Charm’ has fallen over in spite of being fairly well protected by the Viburnum above it and the Symphytum, comfrey, all around but the two Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein, which have appeared from nowhere and are starting to flower, have stayed standing tall in spite of being in a more exposed position amongst a clump of, similarly self-seeded, foxgloves.

And, even when I can claim credit for the planting, the results are not always as expected. One of my Solanum dulcamara bushes is producing a much better show at the back of the trellis it was supposed to grow up than it is at the front.


Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade


Still, there’s no denying that having a dense garden is a boon to wildlife and we do see all sorts. They are all welcome but, I’m not always sure that the sentiment is reciprocated. Certainly, the sparrowhawk that flew out of hawthorn hedge this morning when I went out to get some of these pictures would have preferred me to stay indoors and leave him to get his breakfast.