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Plants are stunners but whiff of dog poo

PUBLISHED: 13:17 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 17:11 16 August 2010

WELL readers – what a week it s been in the weather department from eight inches of snow a week ago, to sheet ice and flooding. I ve never seen the weather men on the box so animated! Now to completely change the subject: In the recent snow cautiously co

WELL readers - what a week it's been in the weather department from eight inches of snow a week ago, to sheet ice and flooding. I've never seen the weather men on the box so animated!

Now to completely change the subject: In the recent snow cautiously commandeering the good old gardener's banger (my Vauxhall Astra) I ventured to an icy scientific institution just North of Bedford in Bedfordshire.

I was visiting Unilever UK - which manufacture numerous leading brands as diverse as Vienetta (I love Vienetta!), PG Tips, Persil and Timotei.

What on earth were you doing there Mr Green Man? Well Times readers I'd very kindly been offered a donation for The World Garden from Unilever! But as you might expect - no ordinary donation!

Whilst researching this week's Green Man on this wacky donation on the World Wide Web - I stumbled across phrases such as "All Natural Weight Loss Supplement"; "Lose real weight naturally"; "Click here for your natural appetite suppressor".

Yes, I'd been offered by Unilever up to 3,000 plants of the famous Hoodia gordonii - famed for having magical weight lose properties. But in Nov 2008 Unilever pulled out of continuing development because of toxic properties discovered within this curious plant that could have an adverse affect in humans.

Despite potentially health scares - well known faces like Paris Hilton take Hoodia based pills - not that she needs too!

Arriving at this amazing scientific site and to be guided around by Sally Wallace, the biologist in charge of growing these bizarre plants was awesome.

Sally enthusiastically showed me all of the intensely heated, often artificially lit glasshouses (see picture below) where these plants were grown to perfection - her husbandry was exceptional.

She explained that they look like cacti and feel like cacti with awful devilish spines but are in fact from the family Apocynaceae which includes the delicious scented houseplant - Stephanotis. These two plants couldn't look more different!

Mr Adrian who'd accompanied me for the day - only put 12 plants in the boot. I wanted more but their final home will be in Lullingstone's cactus house - not much space left in this burgeoning cacti and succulent delight.

Moreover when the fiery papery flowers appear they reek of pungent dog poo - which apparently can still stink on you and your clothes even after you've walked away from the plants - so we didn't want too many plants or we'll have no visitors back to check out the developing World Garden!

Only Kew Garden's and a couple others wanted anymore plants so the rest were to be skip to make way for the next experiment - tomatoes. A bit different!

I even got a CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) certificate as Hoodia gordonii is an endangered plant which in the wild ranges from Southern Angola to Central Namibia.

I felt sooooo chuffed leaving with these rare Page 3 stunners. I have such a strange life in many ways. Every day is certainly diverse. But I love it. Whoopee!

Fact Finding Green Man Footnote: The use of Hoodia gordonii has long been known by the indigenous populations of Southern Africa, who infrequently use these plants for treating indigestion and small infections. However, it is their centuries old use of the meat of the plant to suppress appetite when making long hunting trips in the Namibian Desert that has stimulated the most interest in weight control.

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