the dark side of plants and gardens

We usually talk about gardens as pleasant lovely places that promote health and happiness. But there is a dark side to plants and gardens as well. Plants can poison, and have been used for this purpose in history and literature. A forest can be appreciated for its wildness and natural beauty, until you get lost in it because the birds have eaten the breadcrumbs that Hansel scattered along the way. It is then you may encounter the wicked and dangerous witch …

I have just finished reading an enjoyable (if you like the haunted house genre) novel by Joyce Reardon, called The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red. Rose Red was the name of the house of Ellen and her husband John. This house had a mind of its own, and a ravenous appetite. Many people disappeared and died in it. And plants were implicated in these deaths.

‘… I watch, as impossibly the thorny vines of Sukeena’s remarkable indoor garden … come alive with alarming speed. I watch as that dense greenery runs up the glass as if a thousand snakes sprout, racing from the soil demonically. I watch as that policeman, already halted in his approach, is suddenly tangled and overcome by the twisting, creeping choke of that instant jungle…

‘… And then I see the policeman no more… in stunned amazement I watch as the overgrowth recedes as quickly as it came, suddenly alive with color and bloom – a paralysing red of bougainvillea, orchid and, dare I admit it, roses. More red roses than I have ever laid eyes upon.’

Even before I read this book and thought these thoughts, I never used the colour red much in my garden. I don’t know why, it never seemed to work for me. Maybe it's just as well ... ☺

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  1. That sounds good! Is is appropriate for teens?

  2. I once tried to sleep in a perfectly normal friendly wood at night. I could stand only an hour. Things are different at night. I love folk tales but the original un-sanitized forms are often very dark indeed.

  3. Things are very different at night. The veil between worlds is thinner. The quote from the book brought up an image of an old TV show: The Adams Family. For those who don't know it, Morticia Adams kept a deadly nightshade which was actually a cross between plant and stuffed animal and octopus, plus she grew other poison plants in the conservatory.

  4. Hi Darla, Depends on the teen and how you feel. There are graphic descriptions of sex. I didn't mention them since they are not really relevant to gardening. (lol)

    Hi Hermes, Yes - I know the Grimms are very grim. I love sleeping in the Australian bush, but maybe that is different to European forests? We have stinging ants but no bears or tigers.

    Hi Pomona, my trans-hemispheric collaborator, I like that phrase: the veil between worlds is thinner. Thanks for the info about the Addams family. I'll check it out.

  5. There are a lot of lessons to be leart from folklores. Usually, folklores teach us to be a good person. I do enjoy reading them. TQ for your suggestion. Yes, Bougainvillea can grow well in containers :-) Enjoy reading and have a wonderful day!

  6. Yes, I think it's nutty that 'natural' means 'safe' to society nowadays. Poison ivy is natural. So is water hemlock. Digitalis (foxglove) will do a number on your heart if eaten. And what about all those psychadelic mushrooms? Natural does not equal safe.

  7. Didn't the Queen of Hearts also have a thing about red roses? Off with their heads, said she. Such a reasonable character in a child's book.

  8. Yes folk tales can be very dark. Over the years we have lost our appreciation of the poisonous side of plants. I have a herbaceous Aconite in my garden and always think the deep blue, hooded flowers are entirely suited to such a deadly plant. They look dark,secretive and faintly threatening- or it could be my morbid imagination (lol)

  9. I'll have to pick up a copy to read in the garden this summer. It's good to remind people that some plants have toxicity, especially if you have small children or pets. Cheers!

  10. Hi Stephanie, yes I agree, usually folk tales teach us to be good. I am finding it interesting thinking about how gardens fit into that.

    Hi VW, yes, nature is not safe. This lot of plants is even more dangerous than the ones you wrote about in relation to allergies.

    Hi Prospero, thanks for a good laugh. The knave planted white roses instead of red, and got caught painting them!!! There's a fearful moral there for us gardeners!!!!!!!(lol)

    Hi Easy, I also have a morbid imagination, and find beauty in dark mysterious things as well as sunshiny flowers. Sunshiny flowers get boring after a while. (lol)

    Hi Avis, thank you for reminding us of the real practical danger to children or pets.



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