While at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a couple weeks ago, I attended a seminar by Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, and Ian August, Garden Project Director and Garden Liaison Director of The Alnwick Garden. Together, they told the story of how the gardens at Alnwick Castle came to be designed and implemented.
I went to the seminar primarily to hear about one particular feature of the Alnwick Gardens, the Poison Garden. The Duchess figured that yet another healing garden comprised of plants with curative abilities would be too ho-hum to interest children. They'd be more intrigued to see and hear about plants that can kill. The resulting garden, which is kept behind locked gates and is only accessible in the company of a guide, contains only poisonous plants, including (by special permission of the government) cannabis, magic mushrooms, and coca plant, from which cocaine is derived. While guides delight the kiddies with tales of toxic lore, actors portray various scenarios in an effort to make the garden not only a morbid entertainment, but also a drug education tool.
Although the Duchess is not the designer of the gardens, she is clearly the creative force behind them. It was her intention that rather than being a typical English public garden, The Alnwick Gardens should be an interactive site with particular appeal for children. To that end, the gardens boast a multitude of water fountains specifically designed for children to play in, a treehouse and rope bridges that allow a bird's-eye-view, a labyrinth that teases the mind as it tickles the senses with rustling bamboo, and other features that have been planned but not yet implemented.
The garden does sound intriguing, and clearly the Duchess and her designers have gone to great pains to ensure that it is interactive enough to enchant even the most multimedia-saturated children. But I have to wonder, at what point does a site like this cease to be a garden and just become an amusement park? Are The Alnwick Gardens enough of a garden to seduce future generations into a love of gardening, or are all these bells and whistles a not-so-subtle admission that mere plants are no longer good enough.
I'd love to hear from anyone who's actually been to The Alnwick Gardens. What's the verdict? Is it a place that would delight gardeners as well as children? Or is it just another Disneyland without the rides and the mouse on steroids?