The Alnwick Garden is a complex of formal gardens adjacent to Alnwick Castle in the town of Alnwick, Northumberland, England. Inspired by the legendary botanical gardens in Padua where the Medicis plotted the untimely, frothing ends of their enemies, an English duchess created this garden, dedicating it entirely to flora which are deadly and/or narcotic. Behind big black gates, the carefully curated garden contains about 100 legendary killers like Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Strychnos nux-vomica (strychnine), and Conium maculatum (hemlock). Guides explain their deadly properties while keeping ne’er-do-wells and curious children away from the plants, warning them: “Do not touch any of the plants, don’t even smell them. There are plants here that can kill you.”
The duchess herself is an unlikely patron. Until 1995, she was just Jane Percy, mother of four. Then in 1995 her husband unexpectedly became the twelfth Duke of Northumberland following his brother’s untimely death, and the next thing they knew they had a castle to deal with. As she inspected her newly inherited digs and expansive gardens, much of which had been meticulously designed by the famous landscape designer Capability Brown, she came across an overgrown, neglected section. Formal gardens had been planted in that spot by the first duke in 1750, and it passed through several incarnations until World War II, when it was converted from a place of Italian ornamental splendor into a victory garden of vegetables. By 1950, it had closed. She decided to restore it, not to its former glory, but into a new, modern garden.