Christie’s Poison Pen Inspires Garden

A Plaque Honoring Agatha Christie At Torre Abbey.

It is a quiet killer. Portable, difficult to detect, easy to use, and you can grow it right in your own backyard. We’re talking poison. A favorite weapon of the fair sex, enabling even the daintiest femme fatale to dispatch a hulking muscleman twice her size. Perhaps this is why the queen of mystery writers, Agatha Christie, was so partial to it: poison is the method of choice for murderers in nearly half of her 66 detective novels, and in many of her 100 short stories.

Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon.

Christie herself said in They Do It With Mirrors: “Poison has a certain appeal …it has not the crudeness of the revolver bullet or the blunt instrument.” Murder and attempted murder by toxin was her hallmark, with cyanide number one on the poison parade followed by arsenic, strychnine, digitalis and morphine. All of these deadly potions are plant-based products. Now, according to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, an English rose of a gardener has planted a public paean to poison’s particular power in Christie’s work. Ali Marshall is Head Gardener at Torre Abbey in Torquay, Devon, where the doyenne of crime fiction spent most of her life. Marshall did her homework, reading more than 80 of Christie’s books and short stories to gather ideas for the garden. Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants is the fruit of her labor, literally a garden to die for.

Poisonous English Rose Ali Marshall.

Visitors to the poison patch are greeted by a large placard, headlined with a Health and Safety Warning : “Do Not Touch.” Plants in the garden are given ratings of from 1 to 5 skulls based on the greenery’s toxicity level. Here are 3 examples of the garden’s potentially fatal produce, with their effects if placed in the wrong hands, the books in which they are villainously dispensed, and their coveted “skull rating”:

Cyanide, Prunus family – From the seeds of the prunus family. Potent and fast-acting causing breathing difficulties, convulsions and asphyxia. (Sparkling Cyanide, The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side.) 5 SKULLS

Aconite, Monkshood – Rapid onset of symptoms including stomach problems, numbness and tingling. Death occurs within hours. (4.50 from Paddington, They do it with Mirrors.)

Deadly Nightshade Blooms In The Poison Garden.

Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade – Ancient herbal remedy with unpleasant side effects: hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions. (The Caribbean Mystery, The Big Four.) 2 SKULLS

Pretty Poison, A Deadly Datura Among Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants.

Ali Marshall explains: “While this might sound extremely dangerous for staff and public alike we have been very careful in our choice of plants, substituting less potent garden cultivars where possible. This is a garden designed to entertain – not provide murderous opportunities!” Oh well, it still sounds like fun…