The poison garden at Alnwick Castle contains a castor bean plant, the source of the deadly poison ricin.
That which can kill you can also cure you, and it can all come from the garden. The Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Percy, started a poison garden in 2005 as part of a larger 12-acre garden project on the grounds of Alnwick Castle, her family's home since the 14th century.
Apothecary gardens were once common and used to grow medicinal plants, but this one exists to educate visitors on the history of medicine. Plants evolved poisonous qualities as a self-defense mechanism, but humans now use many of these compounds to help kill cancer cells and quiet overactive muscles or a painful nerve cell.
However, teaching about the healing properties wasn't Percy's goal in cultivating this crop of vicious vegetation.
"The line between kill and cure is what I'm interested in," Percy told NPR. "The story of how plants can cure, I find pretty boring, really. Much better to know how a plant kills."
Many of the plants in Percy's plot surprise visitors, as they are quite common. Atropa belladonna, or deadly nightshade, is common all over England, and plants from the helleborus species, common in the Pacific Northwest, were once used in low doses to help children expel intestinal worms, but overdoses were lethal.
It is the power of these plants that intrigues the duchess the most. Often visitors to the garden are schoolchildren, who are fascinated by the plants' dark histories.
"If you're a child, who cares that aspirin comes from the bark of a tree?" she said. It's far more interesting, that in Victorian times, children had something called killing jars. The jars held laurel leaves, which killed spiders or butterflies but left them intact.