THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday, 26th June 2015

It’s been several months since I last sat down to write a full blog post. There have been topics that very nearly tempted me back but, in the end, I felt I could deal with them well enough via a photo added to a tweet. I did post a mini-blog about the hysterical coverage of Aconitum napellus but that was just a quickie to try and balance the nonsense being spouted elsewhere.

What’s brought me back to a full piece and pictures is the time I spent at Bryngwyn Hall. Bryngwyn Hall is a small (as such places go) country estate in mid-Wales. It is home to Auriol Marchioness of Linlithgow. (Her staff call her ‘Lady L’ and I’ll use that from now on for simplicity.) Like a great many such places, the challenge is to be able to afford to keep them by commercial exploitation without going so far over the top that you lose all the things you love about your home that make you willing to invite strangers in for weddings, clay pigeon shooting weekends, one day courses and the like.

Lady L, thanks to the dedicated efforts of her head gardener, Andrea Atherton, has made the grounds around the house into a beautiful, comforting garden with large mature trees and shrubs and well-manicured lawns sloping down to the lake.

View of Bryngwyn Hall gardens 

But gardens are never static and two things happened that brought about quite a change. First, an old large juniper tree fell down leaving a patch of bare ground after its removal and then, after hosting a day’s foraging course, Lady L got over enthusiastic about the notion of ‘living off the land’ and very nearly put tomato leaves into a salad to be served to a party of paying guests.

When she was told that this was not a good idea (the tomato plant is a relative of Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, though it is likely that the plant breeding that has gone into it may have greatly reduced, or eliminated, the toxins but I wouldn’t want to test that by eating them by the handful) Lady L started looking to see what else was poisonous in her garden and decided that the bare patch left by the dead juniper would make an interesting poison garden.

After a year or so of intense effort, the garden was into its first growing season with enough growth on most of the plants to make them viewable so Lady L invited me to go down to Bryngwyn Hall and talk about poisonous plants to a group of paying visitors and then conduct the official opening of her new venture.

Bryngwyn Hall Poison Garden 

The programme I’d been sent beforehand showed that I would be doing a presentation in the house in the morning and then taking a tour of the garden after lunch and the official opening. That meant re-working my ‘Lethal Lovelies’ talk both to make it longer and to take out some of the plants in order to save their stories for when the guests would be able to see them.

Luckily, I had done almost all the preparation beforehand so I had some time to see what I could find around the estate. This large population of Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort, on the lake shore was almost shimmering in the bright sun.

Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort 

And I’ll have a lovely illustration for the next time someone asks ‘What about bees?’

Bee on Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort 

What I hadn’t asked before I arrived was how many people would be present so it was a bit of a shock that the event had sold out; in Bryngwyn Hall terms this means the maximum number that can be fed at lunchtime, 45 people, had bought tickets.

The weather forecast had suggested it would be a reasonably pleasant day but, in fact, it was a belter. It was almost a crime to close the shutters in the salon for my nearly two hour talk in the morning. (We didn’t make people sit still for two hours. There was a short leg-stretching break halfway through. I found the ideal teaser line to end the first half with but I won’t say what it was because I’ll definitely use it again in other talks.)

Given the need to find the balance between being truthful and sounding boastful, I’ve come down on the side of truth – the presentation went down a storm. Over pre-lunch drinks and the excellent lunch provided by Christine (Lady L’s kitchen goddess) I spoke to a large number of the attendees who were all very complimentary and anxious to ask for more detail about one plant or another.

With 45 people and many of the plants still getting themselves established it wasn’t really a tour of the Poison Garden in the afternoon. It was more of an open air talk in the Poison Garden so I kept it quite short and then let people wander around and answered their questions either individually or by calling everyone’s attention when the question struck me as having general interest.

As always, the dual nature of many plants (use of small amounts to cure and larger amounts to kill) featured in the questions and it gave Lady L a brilliant idea. The garden has two gates and it struck her that one could be the poison entrance and the other the healing gate.

We encouraged visitors to have a wander round the main garden before they left to see how many poisonous plants they could see. Quite a number were aware of the nature of Rhododendron but you wouldn’t want to be deprived of beauty like this.

Rhododendron at Bryngwyn Hall 

The plan is to open the garden for pre-booked groups and charity open days and I suggested that, with the groups, Lady L should explain the difference between the two gates and invite people to choose which way to enter the garden.

It was a really excellent day but, as usual, I realised after everyone had left that I had missed a number of important plants altogether or missed good stories of ones I did talk about.

The following morning a journalist from the local paper came to get some information and pictures meaning, in total, I spent one and two half days in a most adorable location so I was quite pleased I’d forgotten a lot as I might be able to make another visit, next year, and have new material to offer.

For more information about visiting the Bryngwyn Hall Poison Garden please visit the website for the estate.

Submit a Comment

You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

Full Entries


Saturday 20th August 2016 Sunday 6th March 2016 Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015 Friday 27th November 2015 Monday 17th August 2015 Wednesday 15th July 2015 Friday 26th June 2015 Thursday 25th June 2015 Thursday 30th April 2015 Wednesday 29th April 2015 Wednesday 11th March 2015 Tuesday 3rd March 2015 Saturday 28th February 2015 Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014


Monday 24th November 2014 Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014 Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014 Saturday 16th August 2014 Tuesday 5th August 2014 Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014 Wednesday 23rd July 2014 Sunday 13th July 2014 Sunday 6th July 2014 Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014 Tuesday 24th June 2014 Sunday 22nd June 2014 Monday 9th June 2014 Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014 Sunday 18th May 2014 Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014 Saturday 5th April 2014 Thursday 3rd April 2014 Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014 Tuesday 25th March 2014 Friday 21st March 2014 Monday 17th March 2014 Sunday 16th March 2014 Tuesday 11th March 2014 Thursday 6th March 2014 Wednesday 5th March 2014 Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014 Monday 24th February 2014 Wednesday 19th February 2014 Monday 17th February 2014 Thursday 13th February 2014 Monday 4th February 2014 Monday 3rd February 2014 Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014 Thursday 23rd January 2014 Friday 17th January 2014 Wednesday 15th January 2014 Monday 13th January 2014 Thursday 9th January 2014 Tuesday 7th January 2014 Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013 Friday 20th December 2013 Tuesday 17th December 2013 Friday 14th December 2013 Thursday 12th December 2013 Sunday 8th December 2013 Wednesday 4th December 2013 Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013 Wednesday 27th November 2013 Tuesday 26th November 2013 Friday 22nd November 2013 Monday 18th November 2013 Friday 15th November 2013 Thursday 14th November 2013 Sunday 10th November 2013 Thursday 7th November 2013 Wednesday 6th November 2013 Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013 Sunday 27th October 2013 Wednesday 23rd October 2013 Monday 21st October 2013 Friday 18th October 2013 Friday 11th October 2013 Wednesday 9th October 2013 Tuesday 8th October 2013 Monday 7th October 2013 Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013 Saturday 28th September 2013 Friday 27th September 2013 Monday 23rd September 2013 Sunday 15th September 2013 Monday 9th September 2013 Sunday 8th September 2013 Tuesday 3rd September 2013 Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013 Sunday 25th August 2013 Monday 19th August 2013 Friday 16th August 2013 Tuesday 13th August 2013 Friday 9th August 2013 Friday 2nd August 2013 Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013 Sunday 21st July 2013 Wednesday 17th July 2013 Monday 15th July 2013 Saturday 13th July 2013 Friday 12th July 2013 Thursday 11th July 2013 Wednesday 10th July 2013 Tuesday 9th July 2013 Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013 Tuesday 25th June 2013 Friday 21st June 2013 Thursday 20th June 2013 Wednesday 19th June 2013 Saturday 15th June 2013 Sunday 9th June 2013 Saturday 8th June 2013 Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 blog June 2012 blog May 2012 blog April 2012 blog March 2012 blog February 2012 blog January 2012 blog December 2011 blog November 2011 blog October 2011 blog September 2011 blog August 2011 blog July 2011 blog June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.