the duchess of northumberland

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The Poison Garden

Established in 2005 by the Duchess of Northumberland. The garden contains over 100 deadly and hallucinogenic plants. 

I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill… I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be.’

-The Duchess of Northumberland 

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Alnwick Poison Gardens. The gardens were established in 2005 by the Duchess of Northumberland who’s affinity for the apothecary gardens inspired the collection of nearly 100 deadly and hallucinogenic plants.

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From the front door of the glass-walled gift shop at the Alnwick Garden in the far northeast of England, the scene looks innocent enough. A sapphire green English lawn slopes gently downward, toward traditional, ornamental gardens of rose and bamboo. Across the small valley, water cascades down a terraced fountain.

But a hundred or so plantings kept behind bars in this castle’s garden are more menacing — and have much to tell visitors about poison and the evolutionary roots of medicine.

“These Plants Can Kill” warn two signs on a locked, iron gate that’s also marked with a skull and crossbones.

The Duchess of Northumberland (aka Jane Percy) started the Poison Garden in 2005 as part of the 12-acre, elaborate garden on the grounds of her family’s home, Alnwick Castle.

Many of England’s cities and towns have apothecary gardens — historical plots containing plants turned into treatments centuries ago by doctors, herbalists, religious folks and shamans. Most such gardens exist today to teach visitors about the history of medicine.

Welcome To The Poison Garden: Medicine’s Medieval Roots

Photos: Joanne Silberner for NPR

By the standards of the era, Louis-Auguste could be considered handsome. He had thick dark eyebrows, an aquiline Bourbon nose, deep set, large blue-grey eyes, and a full sensual mouth. The Duchess of Northumberland, a friend of Choiseul’s, was at Versailles for Louis and Antoinette’s wedding; she said: “The Dauphin disappointed me much. I expected him to be horrid but I really liked his aspect. He is tall and slender with a très intéressant figure and he seems witty. He has a quite pale complexion and eyes. He has a mass of fair hair very well planted.” As a teenager, Louis-Auguste was tall and thin, soon to be the tallest man at Court, and enjoyed intense physical exercise, such as hunting and hammering at his forge. His physical strength became legendary; he could lift a shovel to shoulder height with a young boy standing on the end of it. Possessing a hardy appetite, he developed a paunch as he approached his thirties. He was often clumsy and diffident in his manner although not without dignity in his bearing. The efforts of his detractors to make him unattractive and therefore unlovable serve the purpose of giving his wife an “excuse” for chronic infidelity, another highly-popularized myth.

Marie-Antoinette, Daughter of the Caesars: Her Life, Her Times, Her Legacy - Elena Maria Vidal

Helen, Duchess of Northumberland had a very beautiful diamond strawberry leaf tiara/coronet. Since she was Mistress of the Robes to HM The Queen (later HM the Queen Mother) she had many oportunities to wear it. The last time HG wore the tiara was during the State Shah of Iran’s State Visit to Britain in 1959. After that the tiara was sold and has never been recovered

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Established in 2005 by the Duchess of Northumberland. The garden contains over 100 deadly and hallucinogenic plants.

 ’I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill… I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be.’ 

 -The Duchess of Northumberland

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Antoinette’s first reaction to Louis, we do not know. But we do have the view of the Duchess of Northumberland, who was staying with Choisuel’s friend, the Maréchale de Mirepoix , and like Antoinette had been given an unfavourable report of Louis.

“I expected to have found him horrid,” she noted in her diary, “But on the contrary his figure pleas’d me very well. He is tall and slender with a countenance très intéressant and a look of good sense, his complexion is rather pale and his eyes are large. He has a great quantity of fair hair which grows very well to his face.”

Louis’s first reaction to Antoinette was probably also one of agreeable surprise, for all those close to him were predisposed against Austria and had seized on any points against her. She was certainly a very pretty girl, with not very full breasts, beautiful arms and hands, eyes as blue as his own and a rose and white complexion. She was less tall than he:  “very little and slender”, according to the Duchess of Northumberland. “I should not have taken her to be above twelve years old. She is fair and a little marked with smallpox.”

Louis and Antoinette - Vincent Cronin