Sunday, July 22, 2007

Poisonous plants at Hogwarts

(image from europealacarte on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license)

Unless you've been living under your mulch with the slugs for the last year, you know that this is Harry Potter weekend. The seventh and final tale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out yesterday, which means that one of your trusty bloggers (that would be me) spent a perfectly good weekend gardening day lounging on the couch reading. Today, having finished the book (don't worry--you'll get no spoilers from me), I'll get back to work. But first, let's visit the Hogwarts garden!

(image from roger on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license)

Today's Oregonian has an article in the travel section on the garden at Alnwick Castle, which serves as Hogwarts for the Harry Potter movies. About half of the article is devoted to the Poison Garden, which features a hissing copper snake, Schedule 1 narcotics, deadly nightshade, hemlock, and lots of other fascinating but toxic plants. The article includes an important point for all of us gardeners to remember:

Alison Hamer, the garden's learning and development manager, said visitors are often surprised to realize that they have many of the poison plants, such as foxglove and azalea, growing in their own backyards. Others can easily be found in the wild. And they are as easy to grow as weeds.

I remember getting into an e-mail discussion with someone on PDX Plantswap once about poisonous plants. She was afraid to grow daphne, because she had young children. I certainly wouldn't question someone's decision to keep their children safe, but I did gently remind her that many of our common garden plants are poisonous, including tomato vines and the aforementioned azaleas. So unless you're willing to rip up most of your landscape, there's no substitute for teaching children at a young age not to eat anything in the garden that they don't recognize. My son likes to graze on fresh herbs, especially mint, so he got taught this lesson early. I point out the especially poisonous plants (like the castor bean growing on my deck), but he never touches anything he isn't sure is OK.

I know there are children who will put anything in their mouths, so whether or not to grow poisonous stuff must be an individual decision. But my point is, even if you avoid the infamous ones like castor bean and foxglove, there's probably still something toxic in your yard. And we don't want to discourage children from hanging out in the yard, because we want them to mow the lawn when they're older, right?

Stepping off my soapbox to return to the Alnwick Castle garden:

And if any of you readers out there are planning a trip to Alnwick Castle, may I stow away in your suitcase?

1 comment:

Meg said...

Wow, cool! I recently had a library patron ask me for help finding information on some commonly-growing toxic plants for a novel she's writing, and one of the first ones I told her about was digitalis, which I have growing in my own yard (that's foxglove, right?). If it's used in tiny amounts to treat heart conditions, I think it's safe to assume that in large amounts, it's a Very Bad Thing!

While working on her request, I did a bunch of reading on the subject to gather a good list to pass along, and was amazed to learn how many plants in my own yard could kill me!

Very cool about the Hogwarts garden -- I'll have to go read that Oregonian article ASAP!