Plant Contemplation and the End of Contemplation

Roger Deakin
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees
“The Bluebell Picnic”

On the art and garden of John Nash

Quite why so many woodland plants are poisonous is an interesting question, but the bluebell is one of them. The sleep of Endymion is for ever. As a wood engraver, John Nash’s botanical triumph is the celebrated Poisonous Plants, Deadly, Dangerous and Suspect, published in 1927. In a review of an edition of Nash woodcuts in Hortus in 1988, Ronald Blythe writes:

His garden was always plentifully supplied with henbane, hemlock, monk’s hood, foxglove, meadow saffron, spurge laurel, datura, caper spurge, herb Paris, Helleborus foetus and other such species which he had often been found staring at, much as one might at a murderer. He was proud, not only of their robust growth, but of their capabilities, and I have often watched him cast a wary eye over the gaunt reaches of the henbane. Gardens were not entirely benign places to him; they contained their darker moments.

The note captured in the past tense almost makes the poison homeopathic. One wonders if such places still exist (they do). I can attest to aconite in our garden and bear’s foot hellebore but no yew.

And so for day 2551

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