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The Torture Garden

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When planning what your garden will look like, it is a good idea to choose a 'theme'. This will help you to choose what plants you'd like and where to put them. The theme doesn't have to be obvious to anyone else who comes into the garden: as long as it means something to the gardener then that is all that matters. The theme can include plants that are in greenhouses, and also reflect those that are grown in a conservatory looking out on to the garden.

To demonstrate a theme, this entry will concentrate on one called 'The UK BDSM1 Garden'. It will concentrate on the sorts of plants that we'd find in a such a garden, and why they fit in. The theme can be further broken down if necessary: for instance, one section of the garden could be set aside for torturous plants, while another would consist of those of the healing variety. Most of these plants have also been chosen because of their colouring - they tend to all be yellow, orange or red - which will also bring the garden together with a colour scheme.

Torturous Plants

Plants that might be interesting to grow under this theme would be anything with spines or prickles, such as holly, roses, and thistles.

Stinging Nettles (Urtica Dioica)

The stinging nettle is a plant known to most people in the UK from their childhood, and the results of touching it are well known. Even brushing past it can release the toxin held in the hairs on the leaves, as it is literally injected into the body. In most people this causes a painful, itchy rash which can swell into weals which are caused by excessive fluid in the area. In some it can cause a stronger reaction and swelling can occur around the eyes, lips, tongue, larynx or hands. When an area of your body is already in pain, touching that area with nettles can decrease the pain due to the chemicals that it contains, which is why some people believe it can relieve arthritic pain. As far back as Roman times, soldiers were using nettles to protect against the cold of the UK, as the histamines from the plant irritated and warmed their skin.

Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)

Red-hot poker gets its common name from its appearance. There are different varieties, but the one suitable for our garden is Kniphofia Caulescens. An evergreen perennial, it bears tall spikes of flowers from late summer to mid-autumn. The flowers start out coral red, fading to pale yellow as they age from the bottom of the spike to the top. Most suited to sandy soil, they grow very well in coastal areas. They will tolerate full sun or partial shade and large clumps can be divided in late spring.

Having a section of the garden filled with these flowers that are so lovely to look at is delightful, yet can make the viewer imagine fiery hot metal in all sorts of circumstances.

Golden Shower

There are a number of plants and trees that have the common name 'Golden Shower'. Many are not suitable for the UK garden, but the orchid lover might be tempted to try Oncidium Orchid, which has this common name. However, it is only suitable for the greenhouse or conservatory, rather than growing in the garden itself.

Solidago is another good choice for the garden. It comes in different varieties, but Golden Shower shouldn't be too hard to find. This is a bushy perennial topped with golden-yellow flower heads from late summer to early autumn. A good choice for the wildlife garden as well, as it attracts butterflies; it can also be used for cut flowers. It can be invasive, so choose its spot with care. Removing flowered stems can help to keep it restrained. This is another plant that likes a sandy soil, but will grow in poor to moderately fertile soil and likes to be in full sun.

Perhaps the most beautiful Golden Shower is the rose Golden Showers. A wonderful, warm yellow, it is a climbing rose. The stems are relatively thorn-free and the leaves are glossy. As a climber it will grow upright to around three metres. It is shade-tolerant and will grow in poorer soils.


Bamboo is the plant from which the canes used in corporal punishment were traditionally made. These days they are made from rattan and are more often used by the BDSM community as a consensual form of sadomasochism than they are as a punishment in British schools2. Bamboo is likely to splinter on impact, into slivers with edges like razors which can be painfully driven into the skin. Bamboo canes from the garden are not safe to use. However, bamboo is a very impressive grass and can look and sound very nice in the background as you relax with a cool glass of Pimm's. It can also look very intimidating with its leaves stripped off, leaning in a prominent position.

Chillies (Capsicum Chinense cv)

These can be grown in British gardens under the same conditions as tomatoes, although they do best under glass. One of the hottest chillies that can be grown in Britain is the Habanero Orange chilli. This variety cannot be grown outdoors, but will need a conservatory or greenhouse because it needs warm conditions to fully ripen. Water it well, but don't waterlog it. Once it has flowered, feed it with a diluted tomato feed.

Chillies only affect the pain receptors in the mouth, which is interpreted by our brains as heat, so offering a visitor to your garden some fresh fruit can result in a vigorous refusal or a very quick demand for a glass of water3.


Although trees only belong in large gardens due to the damage that the roots can cause to foundations, smaller birch species can be grown in a container in smaller gardens. They need to be kept well-watered - they normally grow near large water sources as they are a very thirsty tree. Depending on what species of birch is grown, they can reach between 20m and 30m.

The 'birch' was a traditional punishment handed out in many places. The instrument itself comprises a handful of birch twigs - tied together at one end, so that the other spreads out - and is usually used only once. Covered in buds, the twigs are thin and break easily, often cutting the skin. Many times, the thrashing would last only as long as the twigs did, although they could be soaked in water to make them more supple. To add insult to injury, the offender would often be sent to pick their own birch.

Love-lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

Love-lies-bleeding is a dramatic-looking plant. When mature it is covered with long, pendulous hanging catkins of bright, magenta flowers. A native to tropical regions, it will grow in temperate climates, growing as a hardy annual. Plant it in full sun. It can grow up to four feet high, with a two-feet-long spread and a flowering season from June to September.

Healing Plants

Plants have been used for good health and healing since they co-existed with human beings. Just a few that might bring some healing to our garden are included here.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)

Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub, rather than a plant. There are a number of varieties, most of which will grow in the UK. A winter flowering shrub, the attractions of this plant are its aromatic, yellow spidery flowers that are displayed to full effect once the leaves have all fallen. The leaves should not be dismissed though – before they fall they turn from green to glorious shades of red and yellow, bringing colour to the garden. They can tolerate very cold winters.

It prefers acid to neutral soil, but there are a few varieties that will tolerate alkaline. They should be in an open, but not exposed, area, in light shade if possible. Any shoots that are growing outwards or crossing over other shoots should be removed in late winter to keep its framework healthy. They are slow-growing, and should be positioned where they can be easily viewed from a window if they are to be enjoyed to the full.

Witch hazel contains high levels of volatile oils, and is astringent, anti-inflammatory and mildly antiseptic. It is toning on the skin and to blood vessels and so can be used to slow the formation of bruises if it is applied after a bump. It can also slow bleeding from minor wounds.

Arnica (Arnica Montana)

Arnica is a wonderful herb to use on bruises because it has pain-relieving and healing properties, although it is poisonous if taken internally. It is a perennial herb that grows to between one and two feet high and has bright, yellowy-orange flowers that appear between June and August. Although native to Europe, they are difficult to cultivate and need careful nurturing if they are to grow.

Bruises (or contusions) can occur all over the body for a variety of reasons, the main one being an object coming into contact with your body. If the collision is severe enough, the blood vessels break. This causes red blood cells to leak into the tissues under the skin, causing swelling, discolouration and pain. Applying arnica cream or gel to the area two to four times daily can help ease the pain.

Woad (Isatis Tinctoria)

A member of the mustard and cress family, woad is a biennial – it flowers in its second year. Removing flowering stems can extend the life of the plant, otherwise they will self-seed and then die. Growing well on chalky soil, the plant grows to just over 1m tall and has yellow flowers.

The leaves are traditionally used to stop bleeding and heal the wounds of battle. Fermenting the leaves produces a blue dye and an immediate desire to leave the room. Dying woad is a very stinky business.

Other Suggestions

The number of plants that would fit into a theme such as this are myriad. The choice can be very personal, or a gardener could try to fit in as many as possible. Some more suggestions are:

  • Pyracantha
  • Lady's Slipper
  • Cactus
  • Teasel
1Bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sado-masochism.2Although the practice of caning criminal offenders still sadly happens in countries around the world.3Which won't help, as the chemicals in the chilli that make it hot don't dissolve in water. Don't tell your visitor that and ruin their fun though.

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