An Alameda Garden: The Alnwick Garden

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Alnwick Garden

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?

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  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    The morbidly powerful has always been used as a lure to bring children into a hobby or activity: see Harry Potter. Will he be killed? Who's going to die in this book? And now there are so many more kids & YAs who read.

    The Alnswick Gardens were fun and fascinating, better if not accompanied by children prone to squealing.

  2. I went to Alnswick about 3 years ago before the Poison Garden, tree houses and labyrinth were open. My reaction was very mixed. The place was like a building site, noisy dusty and very off-putting. But when we got further in the rose garden was lovely but the best part was the walled flower garden above the water fountains. This was lovely and keep any plantaholic happy. But not sure it was worth the entrance fee. Would I go again? Probably not, perhaps if I had children, there are many lovely 'real' gardens in the area to visit!

    Sylvia (England)

  3. Anonymous3:13 AM

    i went to alnwick garden this summer and i thought it was very beautiful! I would love to go there sometime again!
    Your site is amazing!


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