Toxic shocker: The Northumberland garden with killers in its midst

Daffs? They'll make you vomit as soon as please your eye. As for autumn crocuses: they'll leave you for dead.

It's the week leading up to Halloween, so how timely that Timber Press should send me a copy of Wicked Plants, the A-Z of Plants that Kill, Maim, Intoxicate and Otherwise Offend (£9.99). The creepy title and cover design give it the air of a Lemony Snicket, but while it's the perfect gift for anyone considering Snicket-esque murder, it's actually by the Californian gardener Amy Stewart.

Poison gardens have become rather fashionable. One has been proposed for next year's Chelsea, and more permanently, there's the famous one at Alnwick, created in 2004 by the new Duchess of Northumberland. The duchess even has cannabis growing in a cage – which is more than can be said for the Oxford Botanic Garden, where last summer it was growing, neatly labelled but, gasp, uncaged.

Poisonous and intoxicating plants fascinate us, but knowing your poison is a necessary skill. Especially those with kids. A baby can have a handful of green growth whipped off a bush and into its mouth at Olympic speed. Which generally leaves you wondering just how bad a taste of honeysuckle might be for the tiny pruner.

The really dangerous plants in your garden can be surprising. Wisteria is wickedly toxic. And the autumn crocus, colchicum, is one of the most toxic plants grown widely in gardens. Its pretty pink blooms are gorgeous in the cold days of October, but the leaves have resulted in death from kidney and liver failure.

Other favourites, while less dangerous, will still send you to A&E. A friend of mine (with less than perfect eyesight) spent several hours in casualty after a brush with what she thought was garlic, but turned out to be some daffodil bulbs. Praised by Wordsworth for its aesthetic qualities, the humble daff will leave you with intense stomach cramps and vomiting – which is one major incentive to avoid planting it in any soil you also use for veg.

Although berries as a rule are best avoided, some are not just edible, but palatable. When I joined the Fuchsia Society a couple of years ago, I was immediately furnished with a rather delicious recipe for the odd little glacé cherry-like fruits that appear after their gaudy flowers. And Pam Corbin's River Cottage Handbook Number 2, "Preserves" (Bloomsbury), contains a good one for hedgerow jelly that would use up most of the berries in my road, where the trees are rowans, crab apples and hawthorns. So try to stay calm: though a heart attack looms at the moment you see your child with a mouthful of berries, a proper identification is always your best bet.

People with small children and pets should avoid planting anything on the RHS's poisonous plants list (rhs.org.uk)

What's your poison?

Datura

According to the Duchess of Northumberland, in South America the flower is used on a baby's pillow for a few minutes to lull the nippers to sleep. Nevertheless: deeply toxic, highly hallucinogenic, and liable to prevent you remembering to breathe

Oleander

Many of the most dangerous plants kill by containing cardiac glycosides, which regulate your heart – and Oleander is one of them. A popular street plant in the Med and terrace plant in the UK, it killed toddlers as recently as 2000

Elderberry

Happily edible once cooked, the raw version caused a mass hospital evacuation in the US during the early 1980s. Most parts of the plant have high cyanide content, and shouldn't be eaten

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Voices
voices
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
newsBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried