Death in the Garden – Book Review

Poisonous Plants & Their Use Throughout History

Michael Brown

Pen and Sword Books. Paperback £16.99

ISBN 1526708388

I once turned up at a client’s garden to find foxgloves growing amongst the cut-and- come-again lettuce. Horrified, I carefully weeded them out, but decided I couldn’t be sure I’d found them all. The whole plot had to be dug up and replanted. Growing flowers in the veg plot has become fashionable. But mixing flowers with salads and veg can be deadly. We know foxgloves or digitalis has links with modern medicine to treat heart disorders. All parts of the plant are, however, highly poisonous. Michael Brown, in his book Death in the Garden, says on a toxicity scale of 1 to 20, with 1 being the most lethal, foxgloves are at number 3. The difference between a beneficial and lethal dose being minute.

Foxgloves are just one of the plants listed in Brown’s fascinating book. I’ve grown up knowing about the dangers of deadly and woody nightshade, and giant hogweed. But who knew that aquilegia could be poisonous.

Brown describes how powdered aquilegia seeds were used historically as medicine for jaundice and liver problems right up until the early nineteenth century. The plant, apparently high in vitamin C, was also rather dubiously used to treat scurvy. Luckily, modern medicine has moved on and the plant has reverted back to being used just to decorate our gardens.

Other plants I’ll look at in a different light in future include autumn crocus, bindweed, broom, cherry laurel, daffodils, morning glory and celandine, to name but a few.

And as for basil, I’ll not be able to eat it again without thinking of Brown’s rather bizarre and gory murder story involving a severed head and a pot of herbs! His book is a mixture of fact and fiction – all revolving around plants and poisons. Highly entertaining as well as informative. But you might not be able to sleep at night after reading it.

The book cover says :” Mankind has always had a morbid fascination with poisonous plants; how their poisonous properties were discovered and developed will most likely be left unknown. Over the centuries poisonous plants have been used to remove garden pests, unwanted rivals, and deceitful partners. They have also been used for their medicinal qualities, as rather dangerous cosmetics, even to help seduce a lover, when perceived as an aphrodisiac.

“Death in the Garden is based on Michael Brown’s most popular talk, popular as this subject holds a strange interest, for many will enjoy learning about these treacherous and peculiar plants, their defensive and deadly traits as well as the folklore that has grown around them. ”

Michael Brown has been a head gardener, a college lecturer and designed the medieval gardens at Prebendal Manor, Nassington. He now gives talks and demonstrations on historical gardening .

The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included. Comments without wishing to be in the draw are also fine.

Please do not try any of the “recipes” or remedies mentioned in the book.

DISCLAIMER: All the plants mentioned in this blog piece and the above book can cause death or injury. The contents of the review and book are for interest only and the author and publisher accept no liability for any injury caused by the use of the plants.

Links : kindle https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Death-in-the-Garden-Kindle/p/14944

Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Garden-Poisonous-Throughout-History/dp/1526708388

Prize Draw Winner -Slot Planter

Last week I wrote about Slot Planters as an alternative to plastic. Company owners Kay and Colin kindly offered a planter for a prize draw. Names were put into a cheese dome, apparently. Kay and Colin didn’t have a hat! I couldn’t stop laughing, to be honest. Anyway, a name was randomly pulled out of the cheese dome and Creoscribe won the draw.

I am delighted with my planter and I wish Colin and Kay all the best with their new product. They are a lovely couple with lots of enthusiasm, and a sense of humour – which always helps! I like to support British companies, and although I’m not giving up my plastic trays, I’m trying not to buy any more if I can help it. The plastic I have here will be carefully used, washed and reused. But if I can think of alternatives I’ll try them out and report back on the blog. I’ll be buying several more planters in different sizes for the coming growing season.

I’m just about to transplant my edible peas into the veg plot. Peas are hardy, but it’s best to start them off indoors as they are a tasty treat for mice and pigeons. I’m going to use the Slot Planter for sweet peas now. Here’s what the cut flower patch looked like last summer. Gladioli came from Tee Gee Bulbs.

Sweet pea Wiltshire Ripple is a favourite. Flowers over a long period and is very pretty. Lasts well in a vase.

Thank you everyone who read the review, commented and took part in the prize draw. Please let me know if you have tried anything new in your garden. It’s good to share ideas.

Links: I wrote the review here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/03/14/slot-planter-seed-tray-on-trial/

Slot Planter :https://slotplanter.co.uk/wooden-planter.html

Sweet peas : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/

Gee Tee Bulbs: https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/gladioli

Slot Planter Seed Tray- On Trial

Searching for alternatives to plastic, I’ve come across a new product called a Slot Planter. And if you’d like to try it, there’s one available in my prize draw this week.

The Slot Planter is made from interlocking panels and comes flat packed through the post.

It’s well packaged with recyclable cardboard materials.

Opening the parcel, I find four panels that simply slot together. No screws, glue or fixings are needed.

Drainage holes are already drilled.

I filled mine with good quality compost. I use Dalefoot salad and vegetable peat-free compost made from sheeps wool and bracken. I sowed some Twinkle seeds from Suttons. These produce tasty pea shoots, and after three harvests, can be planted outside and allowed to grow on.

Grown in a greenhouse with the heater set at 5C, the pea shoots looked like this after three weeks. I’ve only watered the compost once.

After another couple of weeks, the pea shoots are ready to harvest. Just pinch out the top two or three inches, and the peas will branch out and grow back.

The Slot Planter has proved sturdy enough to be moved about from potting shed to greenhouse and outdoors for the photos to be taken. I’m delighted with it so far. It could also be used for sweet peas or broad beans. I’m going to try sweet corn and salads too.

It’s made from Medite Tricoya Extreme. The blurb that comes with the planter says this is a durable, sustainable, environmentally-friendly wood panel product with a 25 year guarantee against rot and decay. Planters are available in various sizes. The seed tray size above costs £12.99, or £35.99 for three. £3.50 postage per order.

I have one seed tray, as shown above, worth £12.99, to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment and let me know if you would like to be included in the draw. The owners Colin and Kay Thompson will pull a name out of hat. Winners are randomly selected and our decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. No purchase is necessary to take part. A winner will be selected on Sunday 17th March.

What products have you found, as alternatives to buying plastic for the garden? Let me know. We are all trying our hardest to recycle and reuse what plastic pots we have. It’s interesting to see alternative materials and products come on to the market, specially designed for gardeners.

Links for more information: slotplanter.co.uk Order online or telephone 01728 684433

https://slotplanter.co.uk/

Colin and Kay Thompson, from Tuddenham, Suffolk, also make beautiful wooden garden obelisks. https://woodengardenobelisk.co.uk/slot-planter-wooden-plant-pot.htm

Dalefoot compost https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Sutton’s seeds https://www.suttons.co.uk/

In a Vase on Monday.

I dashed home from work – and it was still light. Hurray! These photos were taken at 5.52 pm. This week I found some delicate apricot blossom. Four stems, displayed in my mother-in-law Joan’s cut glass vase. Such beautiful flowers. They seem to need no other companions.

These flowers will be a fleeting beauty. The weather has turned cold and windy. Snow fell yesterday but didn’t settle. I expect there’s more to come. Meanwhile, I’ll bring my vase indoors. Such pretty flowers will cheer up my kitchen table- and me.

Links:

IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

Apricot trees https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/category/apricots/

Six on Saturday – 9th March 2019

Flashes of light in the wild garden. Anemone blanda White Splendour. It’s full of bees today. White Stands out well against a leafmould carpet. I love the golden stamens.

Wild primroses escape from the hedgerow and colonise the lawn. We will mow around them.

Wild violets all along the hedgerow. Fabulous scent. More bees.

Talking of scent, these hyacinths, Carnegie White and Delft Blue, are still going strong on the greenhouse trolley. I’m enjoying shuffling the plant pots around for my “potted garden” display. Must admit, I got the idea from Monty Don. His “little pots of delight” always caught my attention. Last autumn, I threw lots of bulbs unceremoniously into shallow pans and Sankey pots, and stuffed them under the greenhouse benches. Corkscrew hazel twigs are holding the hyacinths up. ( Thank you Mary for dropping two sacks of twigs on the grass verge for me. 🙂)

From little terracotta pans – to this giant Italian pot, bulbs look great in any container. This is packed full with 50 white tulips. After I’d planted them, I thought I’d layer up with other bulbs to extend the flowering season. There’s white crocus Joan of Arc, anemone blanda, blue hyacinths, and blue violas, topped off with narcissi February Gold.

It’s really worth buying top-size bulbs. These crocus have three flower stems per bulb. It prolongs the crocus season. So cheerful now the weather has turned cold and windy. We need all the cheer we can get. It’s currently sleeting here, and snow is said to be on the way. Enjoy your gardening weekend, and try to keep warm. I will be in the greenhouse- with the heating switched on!

Links:

Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/six-on-saturday-09-03-2019/

Anemone blanda https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/90635/i-Anemone-blanda-i-White-Splendour/Details

Bulbs : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Bulb compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/products/bulb-compost.p.aspx

Six on Saturday- My Garden view March 2 2019

Snowdrops are fading fast. We’ve had the warmest February on record, which means they flowered early. But late-flowering varieties came into flower and withered within days.

Warm weather means an early start for daffodils. I’ve planted wild-type varieties here. Amongst the trees. Fancy doubles would look out of place.

Pots of Paperwhite Narcissi have been successionally flowering since November. For very little work, staggering the planting, a steady stream of flowers are produced for container and cut flowers. The scent is so welcome when it’s cold and dark.

New variety Snow Baby was an experiment this year. They are perfect for hanging baskets, window boxes and containers. Long flowering- whatever the weather. A little beauty. It’s earned its place on my order list for next spring.

Terracotta pots of white primroses and polyanthus are all around the garden today. Such a fabulous scent – and much loved by bees.

Pale yellow wild primroses are popping up all along the grass verge and our front garden. I haven’t used weed killer or feed on the lawns for years. Nature’s reward is a blanket of wild flowers starting with primroses, then wild violets, blue self heal, and in the damper areas, lady’s smock, cardamine pratensis, or cuckoo flower. I wonder if we’ll hear the cuckoo this year. We only heard it once last spring. Sad to think that in my Grandfather Ted Fould’s day, cuckoos were a common sound in the woods around his home. Now we are lucky to hear just one.

We have lost half of our cuckoo population over the past 20 years. I’m anxiously watching the BTO’s satellite tracking survey showing the position of tagged birds in the Congo rainforest. Soon they will set off for the long flight back to Britain, via the West African coast.

Climate change is causing the timings of the spring season to fluctuate. Evidence shows that migrant species are not advancing their arrival times sufficiently to keep pace with the change. One thing we can do is not spray our gardens so the cuckoo and other migrant birds find insects to eat when they get here. And I’ll leave our surrounding hedgerows tall and wild, to encourage all types of nesting birds.

You can learn more and watch the satellite tracking here https://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

I’m joining the Propagator with his Six on Saturday meme. You can see more here :https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/six-on-saturday-02-03-2019/

Garden Press Event – trip to London for me!

It takes a lot to entice me away from home and garden these days. I am happiest pottering around the plot, doing a bit of weeding, sowing a few seeds. Simple pleasures. But each February I venture out to visit the Garden Press Event in London. It’s the start of the gardening season and the annual event showcases new products and ideas for gardeners. So there’s new seeds, plants, composts, feeds, and tools and machines to see.

I’ll report back later and let you know what’s caught my eye. Meanwhile, I’ve run round the garden and taken some photos this morning- a kind of amulet for me- and a way of carrying my garden with me, in picture form at least. I hope you enjoy this morning’s walk around my plot.

Spring bulbs on the garden trolley. The scent is fabulous in the early morning sunshine. It’s mild enough to wear a jumper. No need for a coat, gloves, hat….

Crocus Joan of Arc. My favourite white crocus. Much loved by bees.

Crocus tommasinianus. Despite the squirrels. If you can get them past the newly-planted stage, the squirrels are not so interested. They seem to only like the fresh, dried bulbs here. The woodland garden has small patches of lilac crocus. I hope they will join up and make a glade of colour – eventually.

Snowdrops are starting to go over. A later-flowering variety is Robin Hood. Living on the edge of Nottinghamshire and being familiar with the tales of Robin Hood, I couldn’t resist this variety. It’s very tall and robust. Highly recommended. I’m looking out for Maid Marion and Little John to make up a trio.

Galanthus Madeleine also flowers later than the singles and doubles in my garden. A delicate beauty. It doesn’t like the heat and has not lasted long this year.

Not sure what this one is called. I’m afraid I’m not good with labels. But isn’t it pretty, with green-tipped petals. I expect someone will help us out with a name.

Bees everywhere today. I’ve never seen so many different types out in February. And butterflies too. We have Clouded Yellow, Peacocks , and Painted Lady.

A quick look down the hedgerow before I head for London. Lovely to see lambs tails, hazel catkins. There’s a hint of green tinge from the tiny buds on viburnum, dogwood, sloe and crab apple. I can’t wait to see the hedgerow burst into life.

Just time to view the trees on the ridge. Today they are set against a bright blue sky. It’s going to be a beautiful day!

I might be ready to head towards the city now. But I’ll be racing home again soon.

Links :

Garden Press Event http://www.gardenpressevent.co.uk/

In a Vase on Monday

It’s 25th February- and it feels like May. There’s a steady low hum of bumble bees on the hellebores by the front door. I’ve just seen a wren making a nest under the bedroom window; there’s been a nest there every year for the past 30 years. And joy! There’s frogs in the pond. So hopefully there will be frogspawn soon. Today I’m sharing a selection of photos of my containers. So it’s not strictly in a Vase on Monday- but rather in a container on Monday. I thought I would share photos of the places where I’m taking flowers from to make my daily arrangements for the summerhouse, and kitchen table. And of course some of the flowers will always go to the care home where my in-laws are now living. They can’t easily get out to see gardens, so I shall take spring joy to them.

These narcissi are Snow Baby, new to me, and a real beauty. Grows to only 6″ with flowers the same size as tete-a-tete. Flowers start off the colour of clotted cream and fade to white. Perfect in every way, and the bees love them too.

It’s good to try new varieties, while still planting old favourites such as February Gold and Paperwhites.

Speaking of Paperwhites, I’ve still got pots of deliciously scented flowers on my garden trolly next to the greenhouse. Very handy for picking and adding to bouquets. They are propped up with hazel twigs from the wild garden.

Hazel catkins- “lambs’ tails” – are a much awaited treat. A joyful sight. So full of bees today. I’ve never seen as many out in February before.

White crocus Joan of Arc has joined the trolly display. Also a wonderful pollen supply for bees.

Giving months of interest is hyacinth Delft Blue . Such a wonder to watch it slowly forming a flower spike and starting to unfurl. The scent is heavenly too!

I’m very fond of hyacinth Carnegie too. I love the green tinge to the petals followed by pure white flowers. Well worth growing.

And finally, even the humble daisy is putting on a show right now. Some of these dainty flowers will be going into my jam jar posies. I’m leaving plenty behind for the bees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup of what’s in flower in my garden. Thanks to Cathy for hosting In a Vase on Monday. Why not go over and see what Cathy and the others all around the world are growing and displaying in their pots, vases and containers this week. It’s a fascinating read.

Links : #IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/in-a-vase-on-monday-it-had-to-be-you-2/

Paperwhites https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/daffodils-narcissus/tazetta-poetaz-narcissi/narcissus-paperwhite-grandiflora

Hazel https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/native-trees/hazel/

Narcissi Snow Baby https://www.peternyssen.com/narcissus-snow-baby.html

crocus Joan of Arc https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/crocus/large-flowering-crocus/crocus-joan-of-arc

Hyacinth Blue Jacket https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/hyacinths/ordinary-hyacinths/ordinary-hyacinth-blue-jacket

Hyacinth Carnegie https://www.peternyssen.com/prepared-hyacinths-carnegie.html

Six on Saturday

For a change, I’m going to let you wander around peacefully on your own. I’m in the potting shed cleaning tools and generally getting set up for the growing season. There’s a lot to do.

Overhead there’s skylarks. I’ve turned the summerhouse towards the back fields so you can watch them. Such a wonderful sight and sound. Four years ago, we had only one. A lonely skylark is heartbreaking. No amount of frantic singing attracted a mate. Since then numbers have increased and I counted several today. They nest on the ground in the field behind ours.

Like a mirror, the field is reflected in the glass. In the top right window, you can see the trees on the other side of the field.

We peep through the gap in the hedge to watch the skylarks.

Bullfinches are investigating a bird box in the trees behind the summerhouse.

Finches have been eating the wild clematis seeds. Each day I replace the stolen wisps of old man’s beard.

Pots of Paperwhite narcissi sit on the steps. The scent drifts in through the doors.

There’s lots of white Joan of Arc crocus too. Plenty of bumble bees today. It feels more like April than February.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden.

Links : Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/six-on-saturday-23-02-2019/#comments

Skylarks : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/skylark/

Bullfinches : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bullfinch/

Paperwhites ; https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/daffodils-narcissus/tazetta-poetaz-narcissi/narcissus-paperwhite-grandiflora

Joan of Arc crocus : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/crocus/large-flowering-crocus/crocus-joan-of-arc

Congratulations to the Winner of The Wild Remedy Prize Draw

Congratulations to Kathy Lewington who has won my prize draw for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s wonderful new book The Wild Remedy.

The publishers Michael O’ Mara Books kindly offered one copy to give away.

I wrote a review of Emma’s book here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

I love the book and can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve always enjoyed Emma’s drawings and photographs on social media. To have them in a book I can look at every day of the year is a special treat. A treasury of nature.

Thank you to everyone to read my review and left a comment. There will be many more books and gardening products to follow.

Links : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

Amazon :https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Remedy-Nature-Mends-Diary/dp/1789290422

Michael O’Mara Books https://www.mombooks.com/

Review of Making Winter https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/16/last-minute-christmas-present-ideas-for-gardeners/

Please share on any social media platform you like. Thank you.