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 – 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/

In a Vase on Monday

I always seem to be wandering about in the gloom. I rush home from work just in time to check over the greenhouse and poly tunnel. It’s always a delight to see what’s burst into flower while I’ve been away. So today, I’m sorry to say, my flower arrangements are a little dark- again.

Luckily, there’s just enough light to pick a few stems of Paperwhite narcissi. The scent is such a joy in winter. It’s a little overwhelming indoors, but three stems in a posy are just right.

I’ve partnered the Paperwhites with a chocolate hellebore. I bought this last spring at Ashwood Nurseries where the owner John Massey very kindly gave our group a tour of his private gardens, as well as delicious lunch in his cosy kitchen. It’s a memory I will always treasure, thanks to John’s kindness and generosity.

My little posy came on an outing with me to Leicester for the gardening phone-in programme at Radio Leicester. After answering listeners’ questions on everything from sowing seed to pruning, I set off for my Mum’s house. The posy looks just perfect on her sunny kitchen window.

Pittosporum has a purple wavy picottee edge in winter. I’m cutting back my eucalyptus gunii this spring as it’s got to about 8ft. Trimmings make a lovely background for any flower. I’m also cutting back a giant white jasmine. The foliage is almost every green, and there are a few purple-tinged seed heads that look very pretty.

By the time I finish messing about with flowers and foliage, the trees in the back field are charcoal outlines. I stand and marvel. Is there anything more beautiful than a native oak. The farmer who planted this has long gone, and his son also. We live next to the farm. No doubt, this tree will outlive me. Meanwhile I’ll stand and gaze, and make a promise to protect it, should anything ever come along to threaten it.

I’m joining Cathy again this week for her IAVOM meme. Here’s the link to join in and read about what the others are growing and putting in their vases this week.

Links:

Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/in-a-vase-on-monday-it-makes-scents/

Ashwood Nursery black hellebores : https://www.ashwoodnurseries.com/shop/helleborus-xhybridus-single-black-pearl.html

I wrote about my visit to Ashwood here https://bramblegarden.com/2018/02/26/in-a-vase-on-monday-ashnurs-gdnmediaguild/

I wrote about growing Paperwhites here https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/01/fairy-lights-for-the-greenhouse-and-an-update-from-this-weeks-bbc-radio-programme-for-gardeners/

Visit Ashwood https://www.ashwoodnurseries.com/visit-us/

Six on Saturday- Photos from my Garden, 19th January 2019

Is there anything more beautiful than a January rose.

One of favourites is Rosa Pearl Drift. Rarely out of flower all summer. Throws out the occasional joyful surprise through winter. We had a posy of blooms for Christmas. Disease resistant and low maintenance. I can highly recommend this beautiful, hardy rose.

Picked at 4.30pm today: Paperwhite Narcissi from the unheated poly tunnel, black hellebore bought last spring from Ashwood Nurseries. Similar varieties are Hellebore Black Pearl. Partnered with blue green eucalyptus stems and jasmine. A joy for my potting shed window. I love fresh flowers in winter, probably more than in summer. There’s more need for cheer in the dark days of January.

Planted broad bean De Monica in my new hinged deep root trainers from Haxnix.

I planted Aquadulce in October and overwintered them in the greenhouse. They’ll be planted out next month for an early crop. De Monica will provide a successional crop later in spring.

I’m trialling a new peat-free potting compost from Westland being launched this year. I’ll report back as plants start to grow over the next few months. So far, so good. It’s nice to use, free draining, and consistent. There are no large lumpy bits in it. And it doesn’t grow a green algae on the surface of pots, like some of the compost I’ve tried in the past.

A view of the wild garden, taken from the summerhouse. I’ve been planting 200 foxgloves, grown from two packets of seed, sown in mid summer. It would have been expensive to buy ready-grown plants. These cost £4 for seed, and a few pounds for compost. It’s a good way to create a maplanting effect, on a budget. You can start sowing seed now to catch up. Plants grown this spring should provide some flower spikes late in summer. They will bulk up and provide a real show the following spring.

Scattered all around my garden are piles of twigs and logs, covered with leaf mould. Homes for invertebrates. Beetles, bugs and insects mean food for hedgehogs, frogs, toads and birds. My army, all ready to munch on pests such as slugs and snails. It’s a fair exchange, I think. I give them a home, they look after me.

And finally a day-time view, past the summerhouse, down the field to the woods where our tawny and barn owls live. At dusk we sit in the summerhouse and watch them glide by, silent as the night. The emerald green field is a joy in January. You can virtually see the crop growing! It’s almost a month past the shortest day, and the sap’s rising and plants are getting going.

I’m joining in with for Six on Saturday. Why not go over and see what others are posting for their six photos today. Here’s the link : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/19/six-on-saturday-19-01-2019/.

LINKS:

I wrote about John Massey and Ashwood hellebores here ; https://bramblegarden.com/2018/02/26/in-a-vase-on-monday-ashnurs-gdnmediaguild/

Hellebores: https://www.ashwoodnurseries.com/shop/plants/hellebores/helleborus-xhybridus-single-black-pearl.html

Paperwhites came from Gee Tee Bulbs https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/ and were planted in October.

Vegetable seeds / foxglove seeds from Mr Fothergills http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAiAsoviBRAoEiwATm8OYG3vsJS9JxyNd2rIPtJ1lZ4saSuPRVFTatI-9eqArW1r61_7P6cLbxoCQygQAvD_BwE

Deep root trainers for sweet peas and broad beans https://www.haxnicks.co.uk/deep-sherwood-rootrainers

Westland composts https://www.gardenhealth.com/product/natures-haven-multi-purpose-compost

Six on Saturday. What’s in flower today.

Enjoy a tour of my garden on a rainy Saturday. The temperature feels mild at 8C. I can hear a woodpecker in the orchard. Our farming neighbour is cutting the field hedge across the lane. We’ll be able to see the cows more clearly in spring. Speaking of spring…I was surprised to find so many flowers today.

Calendula Orange Flash. Grown from seed last summer. Supplied by Mr Fothergills. I’ll be growing these again in the cut flower/ veg patch. They last a week in a vase.

Calendula Fiesta seedling. Mr Fothergills again. Fades from lemon to white. Very pretty. The edges of the petals look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

Snowdrops. Earliest they have ever flowered here. Galanthus Elwesii variety. Originally from snowdrop festival sales at Hodsock Priory, Nottingham. It will soon be time to make a visit again. I always take my Mum, and we usually stay over in the converted stables. A little bit of luxury, midwinter. Does you no harm at all.

In my unheated poly tunnel, Chrysanthemum White Stallion is providing a few flowers for jam jar posies. Bought as tiny £2 cuttings from Chrysanthemums Direct at the RHS Malvern Show three years ago. The weather is so mild, the plants are starting to shoot early. I’m taking new cuttings today. Well worth growing. I also recommend Arctic White and Lollipop. They produce masses of blooms. All grow in 10″ pots, John Innes compost. Stand them outdoors all summer. Take in before frosts, to protect flowers. My father in law used to stand the pots in a glass-roofed corridor between the kitchen and the garage. A cold frame would also be suitable.

Alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. Just keeps on flowering. To force them into growth, pull all the flowers and leaves in September. Stop watering for three weeks, then feed and water well. The dormant period seems to encourage them to flower from November to February. Just when we all need something cheerful.

I love growing cut flowers for friends and family. I learned how to grow -for all seasons- on a course at Common Farm Flowers. Never has £100 been so well spent. I learned which varieties to grow and how to get the best out of my poly tunnel and greenhouse. I grow cosmos and sweet peas in the summer in 10 3m by 1.2m beds with little herb-edged paths in between. This year I’m growing love-in-a-mist, chrysanthemums, carnations, ammi majus, cornflowers and poppies.

And finally, I love green flowers and Helleborus foetidus is a favourite. I was just about to pick some flowers, when I spotted these ladybirds. Just shows how mild the weather has been recently. I left them undisturbed.

I’m joining in with Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/six-on-saturday-12-01-2019/ . Thanks to the Propagator for hosting this meme. Please feel free to join us.

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Houseplant Trends – talking on the radio

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06vgzy9

I took part in an interview for BBC local radio today. I’m live from my greenhouse at home at 1.47.39 on the timeline. Talking about youngsters getting involved in gardening by growing houseplants. No one would know, but there’s a disgruntled robin flapping around my head. He obviously considers my greenhouse his territory. I fielded him off with a spider plant. Quite funny now. Slightly off putting at the time. Do have a listen in when you have a minute. And you can laugh if you like. I won’t mind.

Six on Saturday. Simple Christmas Decorations from the Garden.

I should be making mince pies. Or cleaning the house. Instead, I creep outside and lose an hour or two, messing about with twigs and foliage. I am happy.

This simple wreath is made from silver birch twigs, twisted in a circle and bound with twine. It’s an ever-changing scene. Ephemeral. A fleeting beauty. Blackbirds feast on the rosehips. Gusts of wind carry off the old man’s beard, back to the hedgerow where it belongs. It mirrors nature. Nothing is static. I add fresh ivy leaves, Scots pine, crab apples. Dried hydrangea flowers amongst cow parsley “stars.”

For the front door, I’m copying an American idea. I’m mocking up a container. I cut some branches of blue fir and pine and stand them in a favourite terracotta plant pot.

Scrunched- up newspaper holds everything in place. I add coloured willow and dogwood stems. In front, I place a potted skimmia, as a focal point. You could add a white hellebore, or white cyclamen if you wish. A few hazel branches with cheerful early catkins complete the display.

A collar of moss hides the newspaper. It’s a cross between gardening and floristry and no one will know I’ve just used twigs and not splashed out on lots of new plants.

As a final flourish, I add mouldable fairy lights with thin copper wire. They cost £2.50 from Wilkinson’s and can be used with rechargeable batteries.

I’m joining in with Six on Saturday, https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/six-on-saturday-22-12-201/. Why not go over and see what others are doing in their garden at this time of the year.

As it’s Christmas, I’m sure no one will mind if I add a bonus photo. I made this heart from two willow stems. Hold them both in one hand, bend the first one over and then hold in the middle. Bend the second one over, and secure with twine. Easy, and costs nothing to make.

I’m heading indoors now to make those mince pies! I feel so much better for spending time in fresh air, and the house, garden – and me – are all ready for Christmas!

Have a wonderful, peaceful and happy Christmas. Try to make some time to “escape” to the garden, when you can.

Karen

In a Vase on Monday. White and Green.

A slide show of flowers from my garden. Paperwhite narcissi, Hellebore Jacob Royal, white heather, Ice Princess. Variegated pittosporum, hebe, juniper, ivy, conifers, Mossy green apple twigs, woven in.

It’s 12C today. No wonder the Paperwhites won’t wait until Christmas. I’ve planted more, a fortnight apart in 10″ pots in the poly tunnel.

There’s still some bees and hoverflies about. But the wasps have stopped coming. They left an empty paper nest in the long grass in the wild garden. We knew they were there and kept a respectful distance. We’ve had no trouble with aphids all summer; wasps have zoomed in and feasted on them with relish.

Dusk seems to descend all of a sudden. One moment I am mooching in the greenhouse, the next I’m plunged into darkness. I’ve strung some mouldable wire fairy lights through the lemon trees. They make little heat and will only be left on for an hour or so. Enough to cheer me through the gloom of December days to come.

Winter sunsets are glorious though. I stay out until the very last minute. Hopefully, I’ll spot a tawny owl before it’s time to go indoors.

Thanks to Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/ for this IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and arranging this week. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden at the moment too.

Six on Saturday. A peek in my greenhouse

On such a horrible wet day, the only place to be is in my greenhouse.

Cacti and succulents rule on the top shelf. They virtually look after themselves. I won’t water them until the end of February. Perfect for anyone with a busy life.

There’s always baby plants to pot up. I’m using these in a Christmas wreath next week. I’ll make a circle of willow, cover it in sheet moss, and wire in the succulent cuttings. They’ll soon root into the moss and grow on. I’ll post some how-to photos as I go. The wreath can hang on the front door, or become a table setting with a candle in the middle.

The temperature in here is 10C today. A Parwins electric fan heater is set to 5C. Providing I keep the plants on the dry side, they survive the winter. It’s the wet that kills more plants than the cold. This pinky orange bougainvillea remains colourful right through until spring. I’ll prune it right back next March and it will produce fresh bracts on the new season’s growth. This one is being trained into a pyramid and I’ve also got a purple one trained into a ball.

Down the left of the greenhouse is a row of potted citrus plants. These are fabulous for making cakes. I never use chemicals, so the zest is safe to use. There’s oranges, tangerines, lemons and limes. I’m searching for something called a Buddhas Hand which apparently produces large quantities of peel for jams and marmalade.

I bring pots of herbs and annuals into the greenhouse in October to overwinter. My nasturtiums are still flowering. I’ll use the flowers and leaves in salads. Anything to cheer up dark and rainy days of December.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle-stop tour of my greenhouse. I love to have somewhere to mooch when it’s horrible outdoors. What’s growing in your greenhouses, coldframes or porches this winter? Get in touch and let me know what you are nurturing, indoors.

Joining in with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/six-on-saturday-01-12-2018/. Why not go over and see what the the others have chosen for their Six on Saturday slideshow photos.

Six on Saturday. Joining in for the first time.

Six photos from my garden and potting shed this week.

Catching the light in my potting shed window: Old Man’s Beard, wild clematis vitalba. Commonly called traveller’s joy. I stand on tip toe, reaching into hedgerows to harvest long stems with silver seed heads. They’re a lovely addition to winter flower arrangements.

Silver coins. Honesty seeds. Hanging from the rafters to dry. They will be tucked in amongst rosehips, holly and ivy for Christmas decorations.

Chinese lanterns, harvested in October. I love the various shades of orange. They fade to a delicate papery apricot colour. And left long enough, they become transparent.

My potting shed window looks out onto the wild garden. So heartening to see hazel branches with lambs-tail catkins. A welcome reminder that spring will return. The twigs make useful supports for my paperwhite narcissi and hyacinths which are in the dark under my point shed bench at the moment.

The last few golden leaves are fluttering in the breeze. Hazel, maple, ash trees make a mini woodland. I’ve planted 200 foxgloves in the wild garden. We sowed the seed in mid summer, pricked them out in August, and planted out, they will sit making roots over winter. I’m growing Sutton’s Apricot, a glorious silky, peach- coloured foxglove, and Pam’s Choice- white with a blackcurrant thumb print in each flower.

It’s dusk before I finish planting. I stand by the pond watching blackbirds taking a last-minute bath. I wonder how they can stand the cold water. I expect it keeps their feathers in good condition. A tawny owl glides silently along the field hedge. Short-tailed voles live in the long grass here. Within minutes, it’s dark. It’s not like in summer, where there’s enough moonlight to potter around. November dark is cold, pitch black. Time to go indoors, light a fire and make hot chocolate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden with me tonight. I’m joining https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/ for his Six on Saturday meme. What jobs are you doing in your garden this weekend?