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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 25th February 2012

I keep telling myself I’m going to give up. I keep convincing myself that the effort involved isn’t worth the reward and all the trouble that goes with it. But, I keep deciding ‘just one more year’.

Because I spent the first eight years of my married life in Zambia with a gardener to take care of everything horticultural, I didn’t get into the habit of working in the garden at weekends or during summer evenings. As a child, I had no interest in the garden once I was too big to be allowed to play ball in it so I was very happy leaving the gardening to someone else once married and with a home and garden not exactly of my own but for my wife and I to use.

Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane

Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane

Then, when we returned from Africa, we moved straight into a flat that, although on the ground floor, had no land with it and the common grounds were maintained by gardening contractors as part of our annual management fee. By the time we made our next move, I was very firmly a non-gardener so we intentionally looked with a minimum of outdoor space and, when we found it, getting someone in for a couple of hours a week was more than enough to keep it tidy without me having to participate.

But then we moved here. By that time, my wife’s mobility was on a steady downward slope so we wanted somewhere with some open views to compensate for her predicted, correctly as it transpired, inability to get out and about very much. We found the perfect house, backing onto a large field with views of distant hills in all three directions but it came with one drawback; quite a sizeable garden.

So, I had to start to take an interest in gardening but, knowing that I would be unlikely to become a fanatical gardener, we decided on lots of shrubs and perennials that wouldn’t need much maintenance and we certainly said ‘no annuals’. I just couldn’t see the point of doing lots of work to get a few flowers to bloom for a few weeks and then have to dig them up ready to start again the following year.

And that resolution lasted until I became interested in poisonous plants. Because, of course, many of the best of the poisonous plants that will grow in a Scottish Borders’ garden are annuals.

Initially, I told myself that I would grow some of these annuals for one year in order to get some photos of them to incorporate in my talks. And that was fine, and I got some reasonable still pictures of the plants concerned. But then I bought a video camera and decided using video in my PowerPoint presentations would give them a bit more life so I had to grow another year’s worth.

Nicotiana sylvestris, woodland tobacco

Nicotiana sylvestris, woodland tobacco

Then I bought a better still camera and, later still, a high definition video camera. So, every year, I persevered and found myself buying seeds and trying to get enough of them to survive to have a few plants in the garden through the summer.

I told myself I wouldn’t bother this year. I’ve got good video of all the plants I’m interested in except for the Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane, because that failed completely last time. But, yesterday, my resolve failed and I thought I’d have another go to see if I could get better shots.

So, courtesy of the speed with which the ‘buy with one click’ button on Amazon turns impulse into action, I’m now waiting for seeds, not just of the henbane but also Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, and Nicotiana sylvestris, woodland tobacco. I’m assuming that the Papaver somniferum, opium poppy, will come up of its own accord, as it has for the past few years.

I’ll be doing well if I resist the urge to have one more go at growing Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut tree. I know I’ve had a series of failures but I also did succeed once in getting seeds to germinate and, this time, I won’t make the mistake that killed off the young plants.


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