The darker side of plants was revealed at Tatton Park 2018

The weird and wonderful world of deadly poisonous plants was on display in The Poisonous Garden

In a first for an RHS flower show, a unique feature called The Poisonous Garden educated gardeners about the gruesome side of deadly plants, revealing the little-known darker side of horticulture at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2018.

The 600m2 display of deadly plants, constructed from shipping containers, was a star attraction at this year's RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

The garden was split into four key areas:

  • The Poison Tunnel – visitors entered The Poisonous Garden through a creepy and immersive tunnel.

  • Pretty Deadly Plants – an area that looked beautiful, but had hidden deadly charms.

  • Hungry Carnivorous Plants – full of plants that feast on bugs and beasts.

  • The Apothecary – Myths and folklore surrounding plants were revealed and explained.

Gold-standard design for the deadly display

The deadly display was designed by Warnes McGarr & Co. Designers, Michael McGarr and Robert Warnes. These two have designed and built gardens at RHS Tatton Park for the past three years. 

In 2017, the duo won a Gold medal, Best Construction and Best Future Spaces Garden for a garden called 2101, which imagined what British gardens could look like in the year 2101 if global warming causes temperatures to rise by 7ºC.

As well as showcasing toxic plants commonly found in UK gardens, visitors also experienced deadly plants not commonly found on these shores.

Treat with respect: assume toxicity

While they sound a bit scary, there's no reason to worry about poisonous plants. Most are safe to grow, providing you treat them with respect. This means not consuming the plants and wearing gloves to handle them as a precaution. It's also wise to avoid eating or drinking while tending to plants that could be poisonous.

It might surprise you to learn that there are hundreds of potentially poisonous plants that are grown in UK gardens without incident every year, including bluebells (poisonous), hyacinths (skin irritants), hellebores (somewhat poisonous and a skin irritant), yew (poisonous), passion flower (somewhat poisonous) and tulips (skin irritant).

For advice on potentially toxic garden plants and a full list of harmful plants that may be found growing in UK gardens visit our potentially harmful garden plants advice page.

Top five toxic plants that featured at Tatton Park 

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

The common foxglove is a favourite in cottage gardens and summer borders, grown for its slender racemes of bell-shaped flowers. But its flowers, seeds and stems can all prove to be deadly if eaten.

Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia)

Once known as Datura, these striking plants are often grown as specimen container plants in conservatories or cool glasshouses, bearing spectacular trumpet-shaped flowers that are often scented. However, all parts of the plants are highly toxic and its sap can be an irritant.

Monkshood (Aconitum)

With its spires of blue to dark-purple flowers lasting from mid-summer to early autumn and ability to thrive in sun or dappled shade, it’s easy to see why Aconitum is widely planted. Gloves should be worn when handling as the entire plant – especially the sap and roots – are toxic. 

Ricinus communis

On first impressions, the castor oil plant looks like a valuable addition to gardens, with its large leaves, dense spikes of small flowers and prickly seed capsules. However, this plant leads a secret double life because all parts are highly toxic if eaten, especially its seeds. 

Pitcher plant (Sarracenia)

Carnivorous plants have evolved to trap and devour their prey, and are deadly for aphids and insects. Sarracenia uses scented nectar and patterning on its pitchers (tubes) to lure flies and, once they’re in there’s no way out because pitchers are slippery inside, with downward-pointing hairs. Trapped flies tumble into the liquid base of pitchers where plants feed off their juices.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.