Found in England’s Northumbrian countryside, the Alnwick Poison Garden is often called the ‘deadliest garden in the world’ because of the plants you can find in it. The actual location of the garden has a long history at the Alnwick Castle but became one dedicated to some of the world’s most poisonous plants in 2005. Before the pandemic, this garden was visited by more than 800,000 people each year and was one of the most popular attractions in the area.
The garden isn’t the only interesting thing about this estate, as the Alnwick Castle is a nearly 1,000-year-old medieval castle that is a popular film location. Harry Potter fans might recognize the exterior as Hogwarts from the first two films but this castle has also appeared in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Downton Abbey. For most of the castle’s history, the Percy family has called it home and the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and their children currently spend at least part of the year there.
The 12th Duchess, Jane, is the force behind the Alnwick Gardens and was inspired to create a home for 100 infamous poisonous plants after visiting the infamous Medici poison garden in Italy and an archeological site of the largest hospital in medieval Scotland. When Jane and her husband Ralph, 12th Duke of Northumberland, moved into the property in 1995, the gardens were nothing more than a disused commercial forestry filled with rows of Christmas trees. The Duchess envisioned a more interesting future for the property but her vision garnered some criticism, with some claiming the gardens are both too modern and too expensive.
Rather than just plant roses and a more traditional and historical garden, the Duchess decided to do something more interesting and started collecting some of the world’s most lethal and poisonous plants. Her goal for the poison garden was to find plants that could tell a story and help educate folks, particularly children, about the many drugs found in the world. Plants found in this garden include cannabis, hemlock, Brugmansia, laurel hedges, and the coca plant (cocaine is made from the leaves of this plant).
Visitors are warned to not touch or sniff any of the plants when visiting the poison garden but unfortunately, some people have fainted while walking around. The workers that help tend to the plants have to don hazmat suits and other protective gear to make sure they’re not harmed by the plants. Some of the plants require ingestion or inhalation in order to cause harm while others simply require a touch to cause blisters and rashes.
The poison garden within the Alnwick Gardens is just a small part of the entire property, as the gardens are spread out over 14 acres. You can also find a bamboo labyrinth and an enormous multi-level treehouse restaurant at these gardens. There’s also a cherry tree orchard and with 329 trees, it’s home to the largest collection of ‘Tai-Haku’ Flowering Cherry trees. Each spring (usually in late April or early May), these trees produce beautiful white cherry blossoms.
The Alnwick Poison Garden is an unusual place but serves as a reminder of how plants can be used to both heal and hurt. It provides a unique experience for visitors to learn about the ways in which they might be injured or killed if not properly educated about plants. Currently, the Alnwick Gardens and the castle are open to the public with a limited capacity and require tickets to be purchased ahead of your arrival.