Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Poison in the garden...

Murder, intrigue and an intoxifying mix of interpretation at Alnwick Gardens

I recently made a long awaited visit to Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. First stop on arrival was the Poison Garden. The Garden is only accessible by guided tour which was immediatly a challenge for me because I am a weak auditory learner. However our guide held our attention by weaving the stories of the plants into the everyday experiences of his audience, asking questions and including his own funny anecdotes. He used a microphone and waist slung speaker to make sure his voice was heard by the whole of our group.

Many of the plants tread a fine line between 'kill' and 'cure'. For example, I learnt that the familiar deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) is not only steeped in legend and folklore but was used by Venetian ladies as an eye drop to enlarge the pupil (giving an excited look). This is how it got its name 'belladonna' or beautiful lady. However, if indested all parts of the plant can be deadly poisonous.

Our tour lasted approximately 30 minutes (although we were told it would be 15 minutes on entrance). It was well paced, entertaining and memorable. My only improvement would be for the tour guide to have a few selected props to enrich his patter further.

The whole experience is enriched by a well designed and illustrated take-home guide to the Poison Garden. This guides you through the garden plant by plant, giving a run down of their uses and abuses.

There is also an wonderful children's fiction book called 'The Poison Diaries' set in Alnwick Gardens. It is the diary of 'Weed', an unconventional boy hero. The book is brimming with enchanting illustrations by Colin Stimpson. The book is published by Anova Books.
Poison, intrigue and murder - what great topics for interpretation to hook the audiences attention from the start. Do you have any examples of terrific topics and themes?

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