Browsing Archives for Garden

Murder in the Garden

May 7th, 2009

Last Spring, I watched as my boss at the Garden Center, eagerly snatched one very tall, gangly plant from the green house and headed outside to plant this homely plant by the fence in front of the store. I was aghast. We were literally hemmed in on all sides by plants that were drop dead gorgeous. Airy lavender, prickly gay feather, purple fountain grass, harvest moon cone flower, bee balm, butterfly bush, Valerian, asters, mums, daisies, not to mention hundreds of blossoming annuals all clamoring to be admired, fawned over and cherished forever. And my boss… a person who can rattle off the scientific names of every plant within thirty miles… just picked up the plainest, most spindly, most unattractive plant in the entire store, and made sure to plant it before it was too late.

I kept track of the non-descript plant for several weeks wondering what could possibly be it’s magical hold over my boss. It took a while, but as the plant grew to it’s full five foot height it became stunningly beautiful. Fiery red foliage spidered out in all directions. It’s leaves were large and somewhat maple like in shape. It provided a gorgeous backdrop along the fence for the Russian Sage and Summer Wine Ninebark in front of it.

What was the plant?

It was the deadly Castor Bean.

The seeds on this plant are poisonous.

Very poisonous.

As little as one seed can kill a person.

An extremely deadly poison called Ricin is derived from the seeds.

In 1978, an anti-communist political dissident named Georgi Markov was murdered with an umbrella and a dose of Ricin that could fit on the head of a pin. To read this fascinating story click here.

If you plant Castor Bean in your garden you will want to practice the age old garden art of cutting the flowers off before they mature… otherwise known as nipping it in the bud.

Castor bean really is a gorgeous plant, you just have to be careful, watchful and for goodness sake, nip it in the bud!

Digitalis or ‘Foxglove’ is a poisonous biennial that produces a substance that can be both fatal to humans as well as being used as a medicine for patients suffering from heart failure. Symptoms of digitalis poisoning include, anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A few crazy people use digitalis as a weight loss aid. Some of these same crazy people end up dead. I wonder if getting back into those skinny pants was worth it?

At one point digitalis was also commonly used to control seizure disorders, and to regulate the pulse.

Datura is another poisonous plant that goes by many names. Some of these names sound like they are made up by a crazy blogger hiking through a cow pasture, but they are actually real names. Names like…

jimson weed

ditch weed

stink weed

loco weed

thorn apple

angel’s trumpet

devil’s trumpet

beelzebub’s twinkie

devil’s snare

devil’s seed

mad hatter

crazy tea

zombie cucumber

Jamestown weed


thorn apple

My personal favorite is zombie cucumber.

I think it is highly possible that I have been receiving a miniscule dose of zombie cucumber throughout my entire life.

Datura is a very deadly poison that many cultures have learned to use to induce an altered state.

Here are a few fun little rhymes to help you remember how much you DO NOT WANT to sample a zombie cucumber!

“blind as a bat,

mad as a hatter,

red as a beet,

hot as hell,

dry as a bone,

the bowel and bladder lose their tone,

and the heart runs alone.”

“Can’t see,

can’t spit,

can’t pee,

can’t shit.”

And a sweet little Navajo saying…

“Eat a little, and go to sleep. Eat some more, and have a dream. Eat some more, and don’t wake up.”

People who are under the effects of Datura experience a true trance like state. They do not respond to actual stimuli, and instead respond to things that are not really there. They will often report smoking a cigarette, or holding a lighter, only to then drop the cigarette or lighter and try to find it when they never actually had either item to start with.

This is interesting to me as I go through this same basic routine with my car keys every single day of my life. I am sure the car keys are in the bottom of my purse… I can hear them jangling… I can see the glint of the metal… and yet as I dump out the entire contents of my purse onto the kitchen counter in a frantic frenzy to find my keys… there are no car keys. Once again, I seem to be operating from a true trance like state… seeing things that don’t exist… hearing things that are not there.

Am I on Datura?

Datura tends to create a living dream-like state. The user often communicates with people that are either dead or miles away.

I often talk to myself.. and have been known to have pretend interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, and Barbara Walters…

Am I on Datura?

Poisoning from Datura most often occurs because it can take up to 13 hours before it enters the brain and causes an out of body experience. As a result, people keep taking more and more Datura in an attempt to create a high.

I find that I do the same with toasted almond fudge ice cream.

Am I on Datura?

In 1676 a strange little incident occurred in Jamestown Virginia. Some soldiers were sent to quell ‘Bacon’s Rebellion”. The soldiers gathered some ‘greens’ to make a ‘boiled salad’. They ate their fill and eleven days later they finally returned to their senses…

Here is an excerpt about the event..

The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.

In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves — though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed. – The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705

You might think it is crazy to purposefully plant poisonous plants (say that five times fast) however if you consult a list of poisonous flowers, I am sure you will discover that you have poison in abundance growing right under your very feet. Humans figured out a long time ago which plants were edible and which to avoid putting in their boiled salad. And then they stopped eating boiled salad all together. Because even if it wasn’t poisonous, it still tasted pretty bad.

Seed Potatoes With Joe

April 30th, 2009

My father-in-law Joe grows a large, beautiful garden every year.  His children grew up selling cantaloupes from a roadside stand beside their farm.  He is always experimenting with a new crop, or building a trellis, or trying out a new way to plant tomatoes.  No matter how he plants his garden, the food he raises is always delicious.  I have literally almost fainted from pure bliss, right at his kitchen table, after eating his home grown asparagus beans, baby potatoes, fresh sliced tomatoes, and sweet, crisp cucumbers.  

On a recent visit to our house, I sat my father-in-law down and pummeled him with as many gardening questions as I could muster during his short visit.

“How do you plant potatoes, onions, lettues, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant…?”

“How far apart do you space everything?”

“Have you ever tried companion planting?”

“What do you do about cutworms?”

“Do marigolds really keep bugs away?”

“When can I plant my seeds?”

“What do I do if it never stops raining?”

“How do I build a trellis?”

“How do I get over my fear of planting zuchinni?”

“I can’t seem to thin any of my seedlings.  How do I choose which baby plant gets to live and which one must die?”

“What do I do with all these milkjugs I have been saving?”

“Am I going to fail?”

“Can you promise me that I will at least produce one beautiful tomato?”


My father-in-law patiently answered all my questions and I wrote everything down.


So that when my garden fails…


I will not be the one to blame.

Several weeks ago, Cynthia of Dahling, I Love You But Give Me Park Avenue! sent me a link to New York Times article with a photo of a ‘colonial garden’.   She said that it looked like something that would go with my house.  I followed the link and knew immediately that I had to have the garden in the photo. I sent the link on to the Country Doctor and said, “Hey honey!  Let’s make our garden look like this!”

This is conversation that followed


CD – “Like what?”

ME – “Like the photo in that article I sent you!”

CD – “You mean the flowers?”

Me – “No… I mean the way it is laid out.”

CD – “You want to plant flowers in our vegetable garden?”

Me – “Probably a few… but what I am really getting at is the lay out… the way it looks…”

CD – “You mean the flowers?”

Me – “NO! I don’t mean the flowers! This has nothing to do with the flowers! I am talking about the layout!”

CD – “I thought we were going to do a vegetable garden.”


CD – “Where are you going to put all those flowers?”


CD  - “Where?”

Me – “Can you please explain to me how you really managed to get through four years of medical school and become a doctor and not be able to UNDESRSTAND THIS EXTRAORDINARILY SIMPLE THING THAT I AM TRYING TO TELL YOU!”

CD – “Okay… Okay…I get it… I get it… you want to plant flowers in the vegetable garden!”


After another three days of discussions, I finally managed to get him beyond the ‘flowers in the vegetable garden’ and onto the ‘lay out’ of the garden.

And then he built it for me.

Just like that…

Sometimes I think he just likes to torture me.



Originally, the Country Doctor wanted to put our garden on the far side of our pond.  




I carefully explained to him several times… slowly and loudly… each time more slowly… and more loudly… that placing the garden a half day’s hike from the house would probably not result in a bountiful harvest.

“Why is that?” he asked.












As you can see, I won that particular battle.


But not completely.


I really wanted to center the garden on the dining room windows, but the CD had just planted a tender stand of grass in that area and was not about to smother it with a ‘colonial vegetable garden’ full of flowers that he felt really belonged on the other side of the pond.






And then he made a bunch of stakes.







And each time he drove one into the ground, it was like driving a stake into his heart.  

He was building a garden in the wrong place… that would be full of flowers… and was not even going to require him to suffer mercilessly to take care of it.


Whenever my husband’s life is easy… it is actually very hard.





And whenever it is hard… it is easy.




I have no idea how the two of us ever got together!