Thursday, April 15, 2010

Truly A Garden To Die For

In my quest to read 100+ books this year, as inspired by ChickenFreak, I have read a few Agatha Christie novels since January.  They are short, entertaining, and bring back really good memories, filled with lush country mansions and the idle rich of a bygone era.   

Have you noticed that Agatha loved to kill off everybody with poison?  AND, no matter who did it, they either got the poison out of the gardening shed or grabbed some leaves from that rambling estate garden on the Devon coast, and threw it in the port.  Or the afternoon tea.

Some met their death through peach cultivars (prunus) from whose pits come the famous cyanide.  Others choked on their last words with a good gulp of something from the Nightshade family.  Digitalis, arsenic and morphine all found their way from garden to dead person in her novels.

I did a quick inventory of my murderous potential growing outside today, just for fun of course, and really...  Nobody better mess with me.  Just saying.

First there is the common foxgloves I have poking out of various places.  In medical circles this is known as Digitalis, and its either a heart medication, or a heart stopper, depending on how much you take.

Next stop, the Easter Lilies I picked up at the grocery store after Easter.  Its not terribly harmful to me, but deadly poisonous to my cat, Siggy, who has already used up 7 of her 9 lives in less than a year as it is.  They aren't in the house anymore.  And pretty much all lilies are bad for cats, though squirrels don't seem to mind them.

Back behind my little parking area: the oleander.  Now this is a seriously poisonous plant, can easily kill children and pets, and it is everywhere in this fair city.   I bet there are more than 30 planted on my block alone; they line the streets.  I think I have always known it was poisonous, but folks it is knock your socks of deadly in small amounts. All parts too.

Right smack in the middle of the patio is my one tropical love, the Brugmansia, which if you listen to everything that is said on the internet, is poisonous to even smell.  I'm pretty sure thats an exaggeration,  however, it, along with Datura is the prime candidate for poisoning by the Deadly Nightshade family.    I have no issues handling it, but it is one of those that cannot under any circumstances be ingested.   The potato is a relative and this is why for years people were scared to eat them.   I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been jumping at the chance either.  I mean if you really look at a potato objectively, not like a future french fry, doesn't it look kind of poisonous?

I've got a few delphiniums growing from seed in the sunny border.  Yep, poisonous too.  They contain delphinine, which causes gastrointestinal issues and has felled many a cow.  Delphiniums and larkspurs near fields and meadows = bad plan.

And finally my lantana, which is about as native naturalized as you can get here, disrupts the mucus lining of stomach membranes, and to some people is even irritating to touch.

So that's just in my tiny yard.  There are so many more out there.  Autumn Crocus ingestion can cause massive multi-system failures, Lily of the Valley, theoretically you shouldn't even touch without handwashing, as it can cause cardiac arrest.    Yews, azaleas, poppies, dieffenbachia, daffodils, hyacinths, iris, wisteria, jasmine, bleeding heart, daphne, wolfsbane, and sago palms.  All poisonous.  Some very deadly poisonous.  (i.e. don't go eating your azaleas).

All of this and we haven't even gotten into whatever the heck is in Miracle Gro.  No wonder the British gentry of the 30's could pull this off so easily, right?


  1. Excellent post Jess! I love how you linked Christie's propensity for poison to the plants in the garden. I've seen Oleander take down a cow, and it doesn't take much. I think many cat owners are caught off guard in regards to lilies. I was actually talking to someone the other day that it's strange that humans have such a love of eating plants of the nightshade family...potato, tomato, eggplant. All nightshade derivatives...and darned tasty too!

  2. Dear Jess, Yes, Agatha Christie could have had a field day with her poisoning activities in your garden. I do not think, however, that she could have been much of a gardener since she, as you say here, tended to keep to the same tried and tested formulae.

    One hundred novels is a challenging target could a number of weblog postings count against the total to make it more achievable?

    I have so enjoyed reading this entertaining and yet informative posting. Thank you.

  3. what a great post! and how apropos for a blog named children of the corm! as your other commenters have said it's entertaining and informative - and you started with agatha christie. love that!

  4. I'm still chuckling Jess...
    ...and wondering just a little if you did some experiements to find out if squirrels were immune to lillies or not. 'An inventory of murderous potential'? Oh dear.

  5. it is a challenge if you have kids or pets and trying to make sure they stay away from the plants...fortunately i don't have either so my place is filled with alot of dangerous plants as well and they are handled with care, thanks for posting this :)

  6. *cough* Forgive my pedantry...lantana's from the tropics, (it used to be called West Indian Lantana) and not actually a native of the United States. (Actually, it's an invasive in warmer areas, particularly along the Carolina coast, and getting to be a serious problem in Florida.)

    Which is a damn shame, because I love that plant deeply and unutterably. The winters get just cold enough here that I can plant it without guilt, but you head much farther south and it starts to get a little dicey.

    I was just in the "poison" garden of the Botantical Gardens at Chapel Hill yesterday, and they had some stuff in there I would never have expected. Primroses and narcissus are apparently poisonous! Who knew?

  7. Nice post, Jess. I've somewhere never wanted to pick up Agatha Christie as I am more of a Tess Gerristsen, Robin Cook, John Case, Michael Palmer and the like reader, but may be I should try Agatha too. Now that reminds me that it's been more than six months since I've read a book! If you told me this'd happen a year ago, I'd have laughed at you.
    Datura sure is poisonous, but we (Indians) use its flowers to worship gods and carry its thorny fruits in our pockets ward off evil effects (of course this is not known to many Indians as sadly people in India are unlearning the ancient ways and forgetting their own culture)

  8. Thanks everyone. It was a fun post, and I've always been interested in 'what' plants can be turned into. Just think, most of our life saving medicines also come right from the plants around us!

  9. Hi Jess~~ There is a book out, I can't recall the author or title but it released like six months ago, written about the people who have died by plant poisoning. When the title comes to me I'll let you know.

  10. It is amazing that some of the prettiest flowers and blooms are poisonous. I love delphiniums and datura and if I had small children would not grow at all. Very interesting posting.

  11. Dear Ms. Christie wrote about such lively gatherings, didn't she? There wasn't ever a big dinner party without someone croaking or admitting to murder. What dull parties I seem to throw.... I do have many of the poisonous varieties you mention, but my kids have been drilled from a young age, don't eat anything from the garden without permission.

    Christine in Alaska

  12. There was a wonderful display at Hampton court last year. Of poisonous plants, with a witch's corner for brewing up potions. And a wicker coffin, in case you missed the point.

  13. CSV: I know, I think peppers are in the nightshade family too, and I just love them
    Edith: ha! I'd be done by now if that counted. Nope it has to be books, real books. I mix it up by doing some short and sweet, like the Christies, with those that I really want to read but are monstrous. I'm not so competitive (yet) with the number not to be reading things that are on my really want to read list.
    Daricia: yep my two big loves, gardening and reading. Oh, I guess I love my family and my cat too (in case they are reading)
    Heidi: you are totally right, I would have been totally okay if those squirrels bit it.
    Ursulav: noted and changed!
    Chandramouli: I go through whole years where I read like 4 books. Depends on my state of mind, I think, so I don't give myself too much crap if I need to spend six months watching sitcoms.
    Grace: please let me know!
    HHG: I agree, there are a few I have to have. When I have children I will definitely get rid of the oleander, but I'm going to have trouble saying goodbye to foxglove.
    Christine in Alaska: Honestly, if there wasn't a constant chance of death I would love to live in Agatha's world.
    Elephant's Eye: The wicker coffin. Thats very clever.

  14. Noel: I agree. I don't have kids right now, but I do worry about my cat. She has a death wish.

  15. You are hilarious! I love reading your blog. Today in Vancouver, BC we are right into the winter rains so having a cup of mint tea and honey. Wishing you all the best of every darn thing your heart desires!