By David Thompson, Engagement Manager
(Warning: spoiler alert)
Of course as a horticulturist, I was taken by the famed ‘Poison Garden’ on the remote island lair of Lyutsifer Safin, this edition’s disfigured antagonist who lures Bond and Madeleine Swann and her daughter to the island factory.
The Poison Garden first appeared in ‘You Only Live Twice’ as the ‘Garden of Death’. On this remote island purposed to be somewhere between Japan and Russia, Safin has crafted a refined Japanese ‘Zen’-style garden with scenes of workers raking white stones with one-tined rakes – efficiency less their goal than the art of subserviency.
Safin’s Poison Garden. Image/ MGM Eon Productions.
There are numerous scenes in the film where references to poisonous plants are made – we see Safin commenting on Swann’s choice of Foxgloves (Digitalis spp.) as cut-flowers where he remarks ‘they can literally make your heart…stop’. Foxgloves are one of the poison garden features seen in the film along with some other regular favourites. It is from foxgloves that we have extracted digitalin and digoxin that was used in cardiac medicine and for epilepsy although its use has been discontinued as better treatments emerged.
Foxglove Digitalis purpurea.
Also in the garden, we see a spectacular Gunnera mannicata, acting as a backdrop against the white stones. Gunnera is not toxic but its massive leaves make for a superb foliage foil as the adventures take place in the garden. Gunnera likes a well-watered slightly shady spot and also features interesting cone-like flowers.
Giant Rhubarb Gunnera mannicata.
It looks like there’s also a small Oleander which , as well know well, is very toxic despite its hardiness and floral beauty. Oleanderfeatures in many Australian gardens but is a questionable choice as all parts of the plant are toxic, and even burning the wood produces toxic smoke.
There is also a scene where Safin is holding Swann hostage and serves her tea with some clearly-suspect material in it. Safin tells her that a single drop in the eye will cause blindness and not long after she throws the tea in his face and makes her escape.
My guess is it could something like Aconitum (Monkshood) which is very toxic on account of its pseudaconitine content. Aconitum has deep-green glossy leaves and bell-shaped blue flowers and is beautiful perennial, one that is not that common. You may be able to find it in rare plant nurseries. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were claims in Kyrgyzstan that Aconitum might help to cure COVID which resulted in several poisonings.
So while others are watching Bond and Safin fight it out for the film’s final prize, the horticulturists among us are evaluating their plant choices and landscape design styles, pondering the choices that were made to add to the backstories of Bond, Safin, Swann and friends.