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Death in the Garden (Paperback)

Poisonous Plants and their Use Throughout History

Hobbies & Lifestyle > Gardening Hobbies & Lifestyle > Nature

By Michael Brown
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 60 colour images
ISBN: 9781526708380
Published: 26th March 2018
Last Released: 24th May 2023



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Mankind has always had a morbid fascination with poisonous plants; how their poisonous properties were discovered and developed will most likely be left unknown. Over the centuries poisonous plants have been used to remove garden pests, unwanted rivals and deceitful partners. They have also been used for their medicinal qualities, as rather dangerous cosmetics, even to help seduce a lover when perceived as an aphrodisiac. Some of these and other uses originate in a medieval book that has not yet been translated into English.

Shamans and priests used these plants for their magical attributes, as a means to foretell the future or to commune with the gods.

Discover how a pot of Basil helped to conceal a savage murder.

Learn the truth about the mysterious mandrake, a real plant although many do not realise it.

Jane Austen wrote a conundrum to entertain her family; the answer is one of the plants in the book. Will you be able to solve the mystery?

Death In The Garden is based on Michael Brown’s most popular talk, popular as this subject holds a strange interest, for many will enjoy learning about these treacherous and peculiar plants, their defensive and deadly traits, as well as the folklore that has grown around them. This title will appeal to gardeners, horticulturalists, nature enthusiasts and anyone who holds an interest in this strange and enchanting corner of the garden. But be warned, many of these deathly plants may already be taking root in your very own garden…

Article: Herb your enthusiasm: Growth of foraging comes with warning

The Sunday Post (Dundee)

As featured by

American Herb Association Quarterly

As featured in

Folklore Reviews

Article: 'Historic Gardener visit' as featured by

Jersey Evening Post, 27th May 2019

Brown provides a comprehensive list of poisonous plants likely found in our gardens, accompanied with gorgeous photos and a fascinating history of the plant, and its uses (and abuses). An absolute necessity for the home gardener, I know I’ve decided to plant my very own poison garden this summer.

Read the full review here

Cayocosta 72, Rose Smith

As featured on Lil's Vintage World

Lil's Vintage World

His book is a mixture of fact and fiction – all revolving around plants and poisons. Highly entertaining as well as informative. But you might not be able to sleep at night after reading it.

Read the full review here

Bramble Garden

I get offered books to review fairly regularly and I make a point of only agreeing to books that cover something I want to know more about, or just sound plain fascinating. Death in the Garden by Michael Brown fell into both categories.

I loved this book, it made me think, it made me laugh and it educated me at the same time. This is a great gift for the gardener in your life who wants to read something different for a change.

For the full review, click here

The Blackberry Garden blog

Extract from book as featured by

Amateur Gardening, 22nd December 2018

This book is much more than a list of poisonous plants and their uses throughout history. It is full of fascinating facts, including a description of each plant, its origins, how to grow it, and its uses – both medicinal and toxic – over the years...

... This is a captivating book – and much more interesting than its title suggests.

Amateur Gardening, 28th July 2018

Calling all bookworms: This week's recommended read from the RHS Libraries is Death in the Garden by Michael Brown

Throughout the centuries there are some plants that have been used to removed garden pests, unwanted rivals and even deceitful partners. Michael Brown's new book, Death in the Garden, was a really readable account of the history of many poisonous plants and the stories around them.

He writes in a really clear and concise but engaging way, taking the reader through the effects that the plants will have on human and animals. While this was fascinating, I found the historical sections even more so. He describes how the plants have been used throughout history and there is a lot of detail on the legends and stories associated with each plant he covers. It's beautifully illustrated throughout with gorgeous pictures of the plants in question and, if you have any interest in the history of this fascinating topic, this is the book for you."

RHS Libraries

Poisonous plants have their uses, and this book has its delights.

Fortean Times, September 2018 – reviewed by Matt Coward

Brown is undoubtedly an expert on his subject, and this is a highly entertaining book that will appeal to a range of readers. Whether you're a keen gardener, an author of mysteries looking for your next murder weapon or simply intrigued by this fascinating subject, there is much to enjoy in this glossy and informative book.

All About History, July 2018

A work of reference for the crime writer, a cautionary guide for the concerned parent and an inspiration for anyone with the slightly macabre horticultural ambition of creating a poison garden, this is a book that will provide hours of deliciously spine-chilling browsing.

Jane Austen's Regency World

***** This is such an awesome little book
This is such an awesome little book and has a very well deserved place in my home library. The information about harmful plants is clear and concise and there is lovely historic detail about the use of plants in the past. Each page has a good identifying coloured picture of the plant in question and there is a small table listing genus, species, other names and its active constituents which is good for pharmacology. My son who is a horticultural student has also been impressed with its easy to use format.
For gardening and history enthusiasts this book is a must have. I highly recommend it.

Amazon Review

***** An excellent read
A beautiful, glossy, book. The history of poisons was fascinating and although there is a relatively limited number of plants listed the depth of the research gives new invites into the uses of plants through history. Also demonstrates some “safe” plants, in the wrong doses, can have adverse effects.

Amazon Review

***** Interesting
This is really interesting book, as a child we were always told not to touch this plant or that, it is good to know that there was some basis to the instruction. There is a full description of the plant including colour picture, and this is extremely helpful, living in Australia some of the plants have different common names.
There are quite a lot of historical details in amongst the plant information which I found quite interesting. The beginning of the book proved a little slower and harder to get into being pure facts.
I did enjoy the book, and now I did not think it was going to be a murder mystery, although I can see the link and why poisons where used in Golden Age writings.

Amazon Review

If you have an interest in gardening, this is a wonderful book to read.

NetGalley, reviewed by Dawn Tarrant

This book gives so much background information and folklore, it should be part of every gardener's bookshelf.

NetGalley, reviewed by Polly Krize

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book, as a child we were always told not to touch this plant or that, it is good to know that there was some basis to the instruction.

NetGalley, reviewed by Leyla Johnson

About Michael Brown

Michael has been interested in history and gardening for as long as he can remember.
He spent his childhood building camps, cooking (well, actually burning food) over open fires, making bows and arrows and using cricket stumps for swords - he still finds cricket very boring!
Michael researched and designed the medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor, Nassington, experimenting with medieval gardening methods and the uses of plants.
Michael lectures on early gardens, gardening and plants and has an MA in Garden History.

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