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

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- 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/

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.

In a Vase on Monday – Spring Flowers

Monday 18th February. I’ve run around the garden and picked flowers for a tiny posy. My mother in law Joan gave me the little cut glass vase. So cheerful, the reflection of light, and jewel- like flowers. How can such delicate beauties survive the cold.

There’s double and single snowdrops, chinodoxa glory of the snow, pink cyclamen coum, crocus, Paperwhite narcissi, and heavenly-scented daphne.

I’ve spun the vase round to show you the yellow aconites. What a joy to see them flowering in the wild garden. Just as the aconites start to go over crocus tommasinianus suddenly appear. A feast of pollen for emerging queen bumble bees.

Crocus are doing well in the woodland garden, but I didn’t plant these out in the meadow here. I wonder why an unexpected plant, growing where it wants to be, should make me so happy. I run out and check these little flowers each day and stand and ponder. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m not sure why.

For my summerhouse door wreath this week, I’ve popped a few crocus flowers in my recycled test tubes filled with water. No need to use florists foam which adds to pollution. Use little test tubes, glass spice jars or miniature jam jars.

Fresh green ivy berries and moss hide the workings, and wild clematis or old- man’s beard- makes a nest for the snowdrops.

There’s stirrings from the pond already. I’ve seen several frogs- maybe there will be frogspawn soon. A pair of bullfinches are investigating the nest box in the tree next to the summerhouse. They are going to be very noisy neighbours, judging by the racket they are making. A friend and I sat and watched them this afternoon, and marvelled at the weather being mild enough to sit outdoors, in the middle of February, the summerhouse doors thrown open. A moment to treasure.

Links; Cathy IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/in-a-vase-on-monday-alternative/

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

Crocus tommasinianus https://www.peternyssen.com/tommasinianus-ruby-giant.html

Cyclamen coum for autumn planting https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/cyclamen/cyclamen-coum

Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis https://www.cumbriawildflowers.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=181

Chinodoxa https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/autumn-planted-bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-forbesii-blue-giant

clematis vitalba https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/travellers-joy/

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/

Six on Saturday- a walk round my garden, 9th February

I’ve got a pair of old nursery trolleys made out of metal with wooden plank tops. They are perfect for moving compost and plants about the garden. They hook together so in theory your could pull two. Usually we just use one at a time. They also make a good platform for a spring bulb display. It’s lovely to see my grandfather Ted Foulds’ Sankey terracotta pots out on show. He used to love to visit my garden each week and “walk the estate.” He had a good sense of humour and was a very kind man.

Iris Katherine Hodgkin is just coming into flower. So pretty, with markings that look as if they’ve been drawn in blue ink. Behind them, there’s royal blue Iris Harmony, and pale yellow Katherine’s Gold- a sport of Katherine Hodgkin, and new for me this year.

Behind the iris pots is an old zinc container full of Hyacinth Blue Jacket. It’s a beautiful deep velvety blue flower, and the scent is fabulous. I grew them from prepared bulbs, started last autumn. Some flowered for Christmas, but by leaving a few in a cold poly tunnel, I’ve spread the flowering over a longer period. It’s just now that I start to need some colour in the garden. I’ll put some hazel sticks in amongst the bulbs to support them. Those flower buds look so promising on a freezing cold day.

Still on the subject of bulbs … I never know how these posts are going to go on a Saturday, I usually just roam about the garden taking a few photos, and somehow a theme emerges. This week, it’s early bulbs. Here in the wild garden there’s cyclamen Coum and winter aconites Eranthis hyemalis. I didn’t plant them exactly in this spot. Mice or some other creature has carried them here. I actually planted them further across to the left, about 3 metres away. Still, they are thriving here, so who am I to complain. I’ll not disturb them now, or fight nature.

I’m pleased to see the snowdrop corner is finally starting to get going. I planted these yellow and white snowdrops two years ago after sharing a purchase with a friend. It’s the most I’ve ever spent on snowdrops, £12.50 for three little bulbs. And I probably won’t do it again. But they are such pretty things. I’m delighted to see they have doubled in number this year. They obviously like the leaf mould and undisturbed spot, under ash and willow trees.

Talking of trees, one of our huge beech trees had to be felled this week. It was leaning precariously towards the house roof. I can hear the chain saw sounds right now as my husband chops it up for next year’s firewood. I always feel sad when we have to chop down a tree. But it’s opened up a patch of sunlight in the paddock. Maybe I’ll plant something lovely there in its place. Meanwhile, I can’t stop gazing at the green mossy logs. They are a thing of beauty, don’t you think.

As you can see from my view from the potting shed window. There’s plenty more trees in the garden. We really ought to thin them out some more. But I can only face doing it a bit at a time. I’m very averse to change, and I’m getting worse. I would probably like time to stand still. But with gardens, as with everything in life, that’s not going to happen.

Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/09/six-on-saturday-09-02-2019/

Cyclamen Coum https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/cyclamen/cyclamen-coum

Eranthis hyemalis https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/eranthis/eranthis-hyemalis

I wrote about Ted Foulds here https://bramblegarden.com/tag/tulips/

Announcing my prize draw winner. CJ Wildlife bird feeder.

I’m pleased to announce that Chloris has won my prize draw for a bird feeder kindly donated by CJ Wildlife.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment and took part in this draw.

Look out for my next prize draw which will be for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s new book The Wild Remedy. I’m enjoying reading this beautiful book, and a review will follow shortly.

Shropshire company CJ Wildlife kindly send a selection of bird feeders and nest boxes for me to try out,

The items arrived well packed in a cardboard box, with recyclable shredded cardboard and paper packaging inside.

Inside the box was an Apollo feeder, HighEnergy No-Mess feed, a Shannon peanut butter feeder and jar of special Peanut Butter for Birds. Also some suet and seed hearts. And a bird table scraper and some disinfectant to keep everything safe and hygienic.

APOLLO FEEDER

The Apollo feeder is made from UV stabilised polycarbonate materials which should be long lasting. I found the feeder easy to disassemble in seconds, with no tools needed, making it simple to clean and refill. There is ventilation in the lid part, which prevents condensation in the tube, helping to keep food fresh for longer.

My feeder has three port holes. There are five and seven-hole- types available. The distance between ports ensures birds don’t feel stressed by being too close together. I like the perching rings which allow birds to feed in a forward facing position.

HIGH ENERGY NO-MESS FEED

This was very popular with the birds in my garden and disappeared quite quickly. The seeds have been de-husked which minimises wastage and mess. This is great for ground, seed feeders, and bird tables. It contains kibbled sunflower hearts, kibbled peanuts, yellow millet, and pinhead oatmeal. It’s interesting to see that 100g gives 550 K/Cal energy. Some other feeds have a lower energy value.

SHANNON PEANUT BUTTER FEEDER

This feeder made from polypropylene hangs in a wall, fence or tree. Mine is on the front of the potting shed. The Peanut Butter for Birds jar slides under the roof. I found this was very popular with bluetits and great tits. There is a perch for them so they can feed in a forward -facing position. Simple to use, and clean, with no mess.

CJ Wildlife have a variety of peanut cakes containing seeds and insects, berries and mealworms. The robins love the little heart suet and seed cakes.

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

Common garden birds can be divided into three groups: seed eaters, insect eaters, and birds that eat both. Seed eaters such as sparrows and finches love food that consists of sunflower seed, corn, oats, and chopped peanuts. Insect eaters such as robins will prefer food containing mealworms or dried fruit. Tits are among the group of birds that will eat both seeds and insects.

Birds have an energetic lifestyle and need lot of calories each day just to survive. By providing high energy food we can help them through difficult times, such as when there’s bad weather, and when they are building nests or feeding their young. Sunflower hearts and peanuts have a high energy value.

Most seeds have a kernel- the part the birds are going to eat- surrounded by a tough outer case that is discarded by the bird. In some feeds the outer case is removed, meaning there is less waste. If you buy sunflower seeds for example that haven’t been shelled, birds use more effort to take the husks off and don’t get as much energy.

In a recent BBC Gardeners’ World magazine report it was revealed that we spend, as a nation, a staggering £813,698 a day on bird food. The figures come from the Horticultural Trades Association.

I was surprised to read, in the magazine investigation by Marc Rosenberg, the RSPB claim that dried peas, beans and small pieces of dog biscuits can be added to low-end mixes. It says birds will not choose to eat them. If you see coloured pieces in the mix, red, green and yellow, it might possibly be reconstituted dog biscuits.

So, from now on, I shall buy from reputable suppliers. I’ll choose kibbled sunflower seeds, knowing that birds lose energy removing the husks. I’ll clean the feeders out once a week, using hot water or bird- safe disinfectant, rather than just topping up the feeders as they get low. And I’ll remember to put out fresh water each day. Birds need water to keep their plumage in good condition and it’s fun to watch them splashing about.

I wrote about my low bird count for the RSPB BigGardenBirdWatch here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

Climate change is having an impact on all our wildlife. Caterpillars are not emerging until later in the season due to cold, wet spring conditions. This is having an impact on birds such as bluetits who hunt caterpillars to feed their young.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can to provide a lifeline for all the birds visiting my garden. I just hope numbers increase before too long.