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Killer Garden: Look, Don't Touch!

Castor plant bean pods, 10-17-03
AP
The Duchess of Northumberland is a very gentle woman. She lives in a wonderful English castle in the northeast of this beautiful country, and can usually be found amid the carefully tended flora of her most magnificent new garden.

It will be open to the public very soon. But for heaven's sake don't touch anything!

Tucked away under the historic ramparts of Alnwick Castle is what the Duchess calls her Venomous Dell. Inside are flowerbeds bursting with strange plants, trees cascading with peculiar fruit, many of them growing in safety cages.

You see, the Duchess's Venomous Dell is a very dangerous place. Look out for Atropa Belladonna. Deadly nightshade. Three of those tasty looking buds and you'll be heading home in a casket. They don't call them Satan's Cherries for nothing.

Over in the corner is a swaying bush of Heracleum. Named after the Greek god Hercules. Brush your fingers on a single leaf and watch your hand burst into pustulating blisters. You could end up permanently scarred.

Remember, everything you see at Alnwick was personally picked by a real live member of the English aristrocracy.

She's planted a healthy looking bed of henblane, which won't leave anyone feeling healthy. Henblane takes you to the doors of death. You fall down, go white and stop breathing. William Shakespeare had it in mind when he wrote the climax for Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. But Henblane is not to be confused with Hemlock, which the ancient Greeks developed for one of their less popular participation sports - compulsory suicide.

Incidentally it's not a good idea to wander off onto the lawn either. The Duchess has sowed it with poisonous Darnel Grass, interspersed with nepata (catnip), which makes cats go mad, and something called Monk's Pepper guaranteed to radically alter your hormones.

There is nothing quite like a visit to the Duchess of Northumberland's garden at Alnwick Castle.

Have a nice day. It could be your last.

By Ed Boyle