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

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.

The Wild Remedy- Book Review

A Diary. How Nature Mends Us.

Emma Mitchell

Michael O’Mara Books. Hardback £14.99

ISBN: 978-1-78929-042-4

It’s entirely appropriate for a review of Emma Mitchell’s diary The Wild Remedy to appear here on Valentine’s Day. For Emma’s beautiful new book is a love letter to nature.

In almost 200 pages, Emma walks with us through woodland and the quiet country lanes of her Cambridge home. Through her eyes, we see wild flowers, birds and wildlife, bees and insects. It’s an inspiring and joyful journey. Her commentary is like taking a walk with a friend. She’s talking about how she feels and I’m nodding agreement at her side. Sometimes I find myself mumbling soft words of comfort and encouragement.

It’s a personal journey, written from the heart. Emma has suffered from depression for the past 25 years. Her response to illness is to walk, taking photographs and drawing what she sees. As I follow her journey, I’m hoping she finds solace in the beauty around her, in being outdoors in fresh air and sunshine. And although she never simplifies the struggles of depression and mental illness, Emma shines a light on her own discoveries, detailing how her encounters with nature significantly influence her mental well-being. Emma touches on new research into natural remedies, how nature affects our neurochemistry, for example.

Fortunately, I’ve never suffered from depression. But I’ve watched friends and relatives suffer, and felt lost and helpless to know what to do for the best. Alongside the medical treatments available, we are all realising that maybe nature has more to offer. Reconnecting with nature might be the salve we need as life becomes more pressured and stressful.

It can only be a good thing to take time to stop, look about us, and appreciate the beauty of simple things; watching the birds, finding a feather, turning over a smooth stone in our hands. Simple things. Powerful as any medicine, maybe.

The publishers have kindly offered one book free for a prize draw. Please comment below to be included. There’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. The publishers will randomly pull a name out of a hat and will send the book direct from their offices.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share this review on any social media platform. The pictures above are my camera phone photos from Emma’s book.

Links :

The Wild Remedy contains 100 hand-drawn illustrations and 35 colour photographs.

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

I wrote about Emma’s book, Making Winter here: https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/16/last-minute-christmas-present-ideas-for-gardeners/

About Emma Mitchell https://silverpebble.net/about-me

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

Prize draw winners – The Immortal Yew

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN : 978 1 84246 658 2

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is sharing a love of gardening with like-minded people. Books are also a passion of mine, particularly anything with a horticultural theme. So I was happy to be invited to write a review of The Immortal Yew, written by Kew Gardens manager Tony Hall. Stories of myths and legends surrounding yews dating back 2,000 years had me glued to the pages from start to finish. I was drawn in by the sight of the “lion’s paw” yews flanking the doors at St Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-wold, a sight said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when he was writing about the gateway to Moria in Lord of the Rings. A photo of these strange, ancient yews provides the cover picture for the book. The publishers, Kew Publishing, very generously offered three copies for a prize draw on the blog. The winners, randomly selected, are Sharon Moncur, Philippa Burrough and Alison Levey. Thanks to everyone who left comments on the blog. If you didn’t win, please keep reading as there are many more books to follow over the next few weeks, including The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, Island Gardens by Jackie Bennett, the English Country House Garden, George Plumptre, Oxford College Gardens, Tim Richardson, and The Christmas Tree by Barbara Segall. Winter is a great time to catch up with reading, before tasks in the garden entice us outdoors again.

To read my review, please click here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/25/the-immortal-yew-book-review/

What books would you recommend to gardening friends? What are your favourite books?

Links : Immortal Yew https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548966993&sr=1-1

Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

Kew Publishing https://www.kew.org/files/kew-publishingjpg

Sharon Moncur https://renaissancegardener.org/

Philippa Burrough http://www.ultingwickgarden.co.uk/

Alison Levey https://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/

Please feel free to share this blog on any social media platform, linking back to this site https://bramblegarden.com/

The Immortal Yew- Book Review

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN: 978 1 84246 658 2

I’ve often walked under cathedral-like arches of ancient yew trees and wondered what stories they could tell. Their dense evergreen canopy means low light levels- adding an air of drama and mystery. It’s easy to let imagination run wild. No wonder the yew is linked to so many strange myths and legends.

Here’s my view of the yew walk at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire on a cold January day a few weeks back. Almost a living sculpture. Hundreds of years of history captured in every twist and turn. I stood and marvelled at its strangeness and beauty.

Tony Hall, Manager at Kew, started on a quest to record our ancient yew trees after a visit to Devon where he found a huge male yew tree in a churchyard in Kenn. He was amazed by its immense size, and wondered just how many other trees there were like this. He set out to travel around Britain and Ireland in search of these venerable trees, and The Immortal Yew is the resulting book.

The book profiles 75 publicly-accessible yews, with details on their appearance, location, folklore and history, accompanied by 100 colour photographs. Each tree has its own story to tell- from fragmented, sprawling trunks, to ones you can sit inside. And there are some that have possibly inspired writers.

Author J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have found inspiration for the gateway to Moria in the Lord of the Rings from visiting the two guardian yews at Stow- on-the -Wold. The two yews flank the door at St Edward’s Church, like a pair of giant lion’s paws. Their photo makes a stunning cover picture for the book.

The Ankerwycke Yew near Wraysbury, Middlesex, is thought to be up to 2,500 years old, making it the oldest known tree on National Trust land. It’s possible the tree was the one under which the Magna Carta was agreed. And where Henry VIII courted the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. In 2002 it was chosen as one of the ’50 Great British Trees,’ to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Not far from the tree are the remains of St Mary’s Priory, a Benedictine convent built in the 12th century in the reign of Henry II. The yew would already have been a notable ancient landmark, substantially more than 1,000 years old, when the priory was built.

Much Marcle Yew, in St Bartholomew’s Church, Ledbury, Herefordshire has an unusual feature. The hollow interior is fitted with wooden benches which seat 12 people and were installed in the 18th century. The bulbous, fluted trunk has a circumference of over 9m. Some of the lower branches are still held up by old Victorian gas lamp columns.

A timeline highlights some key dates in the history of the yew. I have selected just a few of the dates which caught my attention.

  • 140 million years ago Taxaceae (yew family) fossils formed
  • 200BC Herbalist Nikander describes the painful death caused by yew toxin
  • 1066 Battle of Hastings: King Harold killed by an arrow that supposedly pierced his eye, fired from a Norman yew longbow.
  • 1215 Magna Carta signed under the Ankerwycke Yew

More modern dates include

  • 1986 anti-cancer drug Docetaxel, extracted from the leaves of European yew, was patented and later approved for medicinal use.
  • 1994 synthetic cancer drug Taxol was developed.
  • This book is a wonderful celebration of our native yew trees, and all the stories that go with them. It would be a fabulous starting point to a journey around Britain and Ireland. I for one would love to have the opportunity to visit these trees and stand and wonder at their beauty. Perhaps one day I will get the chance to set out on an grand tour. For now though, I’ll dip into Tony’s book and enjoy all the fascinating stories of mythology and folklore. It’s a journey into the past. And also, it would be interesting to see what scientists discover in the future, as I’m sure we haven’t learned all there is to know about these strange and much-valued trees.

    Tony Hall is Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he has worked for the past 17 years. His fascination with natural history began at a young age. He has been working in horticulture for 40 years. Tony is author of Wild Plants of Southern Spain (Kew Publishing, 2017 ).

    The publishers have one free copy to give away in a prize draw for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below, by Sunday 27th Jan, to be included in the draw. The publisher’s decision is final and there is no cash alternative. UK and international entries are welcome.

    Here is the Amazon link for Tony’s latest book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1/258-7276364-2203519?ie=UTF8&qid=1548447890&sr=8-1&keywords=the+immortal+yew

    Have you any favourite yew trees? I regularly visit Easton Walled Gardens near Grantham, where evidence of the Tudor-style walks and walls indicate there has been a garden on the site for at least 400 years. The yew tree tunnel is a much-photographed focal point of this historic restoration project started in 2001.

    Links:

    Melbourne Hall Gardens https://www.melbournehallgardens.com/

    Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

    Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

    Kew publishing https://www.kew.org/about-our-organisation/business-services

    Book prize draw winner- The Creative Kitchen

    It’s been a good year for new books. One of my favourites recently arrived in the potting shed is The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty.

    The publishers kindly offered one free copy for a prize draw for this blog. I’m always grateful for a chance to pass on goodies to readers. And I’m delighted to announce that the winner is June at https://thecynicalgardener.com/ .

    Please take a look at the discount code on my review which gets you the book for £16 including postage. Here’s the link for the review https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

    I’m making peppermint creams for Christmas presents using Stephanie’s idea for mint sugar. The kitchen smells divine, and the mints look really pretty.

    Thank you for reading this blog. Keep popping back for more news. A whole pile of books have just arrived in the potting shed and I’m just starting to work my way through them, so keep an eye open for more prize draws and offers.

    Are you making any Christmas presents this year? Get in touch and share your favourite recipes and ideas for gardeners and cooks. It’s great to share hints and tips with each other.

    I always look forward to your comments. Please also feel free to share this blog on any social media platform you like. It all helps to spread the news.

    The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

    By Stephanie Hafferty

    Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

    *Win a free copy in the prize draw by leaving a comment at the end of the blog. And there’s a discount code for readers.

    New reading in the potting shed this week is Stephanie Hafferty’s latest book on seasonal recipes for meals and drinks and making items for the garden and home.

    I have to admit, I have a passion for cookery books. Many of my favourites have been handed down through the family. I’ve got Bero baking books from my grandma Betty, which bring back happy memories of delicious cakes. She never ate them herself, but just liked to make everyone smile. All our trips to the seaside- and local beauty spots such as Bradgate Park – would be accompanied by her butterfly fairy cakes. Her trifles were liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. And I bet my brothers remember her home-made toffee apples. It’s amazing our teeth survived, but they did.

    When you think about it, many of our strongest memories relate to sitting around a table together, sharing food. All our celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries- and Christmas being the highlight of the year- revolve around food.

    With my own family and friends, I’ve tried to carry on the cooking and nurturing tradition. Although, it’s not always easy to get everyone together at the same time. We live such busy lives. When I do manage to corral the family together, I’ll usually make a massive pot of soup, a casserole, a cheese and potato pie, a vegetable lasagne, or similar. And for afters, there’s nearly always something involving apples- we have them in store all winter, and they’re free.

    My cooking revolves around what I’m growing. And this is where Stephanie’s new book comes in handy; all the recipes are seasonally based. So they are relevant to what I’m growing all year round. I always start with what I’ve got available, rather than choosing a recipe. Stephanie helps by suggesting what I can do with the gluts of the season. I often have that “what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-this-kale” moment. Hearty bean and vegetable soup might be the answer.

    I’m very keen on throwing everything in a pan together and just leaving it to cook. It gives me more time to garden- and chat. My two favourite pastimes! Stephanie must have written this book specially for me. Her Bean Stew with Red Wine is simple to make, fabulously tasty, and looks pretty too.

    Alongside the main meals, soups and salads, there’s recipes for store cupboard ingredients such as flavoured salts, vinegars, herb mixes, and infused sugars. I’m definitely going to try making mint sugar. Imagine adding it to hot chocolate. Such a treat on a freezing cold day.

    I’ve been thinking about what to do about vegetable stock powers since my favourite brand decided to add palm oil to its ingredients. There will be no palm oil in my house. Apart from not trusting the “ethically sourced” statement, we do not want or need palm oil. Only if we reject it will the rainforests be saved. I am just one person, but it seems the message is getting stronger. People are picking up packets of food and reading the labels and realising that palm oil has insidiously crept into so many food and household products. Anyway, now I can make my own stock powers with Stephanie’s recipes for wild herb, mushroom and tomato bouillon. And there’s a fruit bouillon for adding to yoghurts, cakes and biscuits. Such a clever idea, and easily do-able.

    I’ve had a go at making herb teas, but never tried gin or brandy recipes. Stephanie’s Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Gin sounds- and looks glorious. And wouldn’t it make a fabulous present for someone.

    Sugar Plum Brandy looks equally divine. Apparently, this makes a lovely after dinner liqueur as well as a cocktail base. I’d probably add it to fruit cakes as well.

    You wouldn’t think you could fit so many good ideas into one book, but Stephanie seems to have thought of everything. I particularly love her Gardeners’ Hand Scrub, Floral Bath Bombs, and Herb Candles. I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks, trying all the recipes and making presents for friends. And I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.

    Stephanie’s book is paperback and £19.95 from https://shop.permaculture.co.uk. There’s a discount code for blog readers purchasing from the shop which is BRAMBLE. Apply the code in the discount section at checkout to obtain the book for £16. Postage is extra. The book is also available via Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Kitchen-Seasonal-Recipes-Drinks/dp/1856233235 . There’s one copy available in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected. Publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Worldwide delivery, for a change. Usually it’s UK only. Nice to have an international prize.

    Meanwhile, the view from the potting shed is sunny today. As well as reading, I’ll be deciding what to grow next year, and Stephanie’s book will come in handy while I’m making my seed lists. What books are you enjoying at the moment? What are you planning to grow on your plots for 2019? Get in touch and let me know.

    The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

    Book Review

    Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

    It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

    Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

    Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

    I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

    There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

    Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

    The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

    Book Review winner – The Almanac by Lia Leendertz.

    Thank you everyone who commented on my review for Lia Leendertz’ New Almanac for 2019. The review was published Here

    The winning name selected is https://watchingthedaisies.com.

    Thanks again to everyone who read the review and took part in the prize draw. I’m grateful to the publishers for supplying a copy to give away.

    I shall be buying several copies for Christmas presents. A little bit of joy for every day of the year. Lovely to dip into to keep pace with the seasons.

    Here’s my gap-in-the-hedge view from the top field. A lovely spot to stand and gaze at nature, while gathering rosehips and crab apples for autumn preserves. There are lots of enticing seasonal recipes in the new Almanac. A good excuse to try something new.

    The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

    Book Review

    Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

    Octopus Books/ Mitchell Beazley. Hardback £10. September 6 2018.

    Captivated from the first page, I keep dipping into the new Almanac, published this week. I loved Lia Leendertz’ first seasonal guide created for 2018. The new version for 2019 is just as magical, if not better.

    I’ve made a kind of nest in the summerhouse, heaping cushions and old quilts on a comfy armchair. It’s peaceful in here, only the sound of thrushes tap taping snail shells on the stone path. It’s just the place to settle down and delve into Lia’s book.

    There’s something comforting about being in tune with the natural world around us. Checking the times for sunrise and sunset, sea temperatures, tides, moon phases. I haven’t tried planting by the moon, but there’s dates and times to get me started. It seems to make perfect sense. I love the little moments of joy. Reading that day length increases by 1 hour and eight minutes during the course of January. It gives hope when it’s needed most. Here’s the page for January. Plough Monday is included in the dates listed. I heard my grandfather talk of Plough Monday- traditionally the start of the agricultural year. The book is like a siren call leading me back through time to my farming family ancestors. A reminder to keep in my heart their customs and celebrations.

    There’s recipes such as Epiphany tart, a kind of jam pastry, with a star made with overlapping triangles and each “well” containing a different flavour. I hadn’t heard of this; it sounds delicious. There’s a tradition dating back to the 1600s of creating tarts with intricate pastry patterns, coloured with different jams. I wonder if my great grandmother Annie Foulds – who was head cook at Bradgate House- would have made such a dish. She made the most delicious cakes at home at Carters Rough Cottage, Groby.

    Lia’s writing is perfectly complemented by illustrations from artist Celia Hart. The prints are so beautiful they draw you in, much as a photograph of a glorious scene makes you want to step into the landscape. It’s impossible not to stare longingly at Celia’s drawings- and wish you could step into the page. I’d like to see those swifts and swallows soaring above my head and turn over the seashells she so wonderfully captures.

    A mesmerising read, totally spellbinding. A beautiful month by month companion for me. For anyone, like me, who tries to weave the stories of the past into the journey to the future.

    The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers will pick a name and send out a copy. The publisher’s decision is final. Sorry UK entries only.

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

    Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.