"In the old days, mandrake was called the flying ointment of the witches," Viviene Hillgrove tells the wide-eyed children touring her herb garden in California's Sonoma Valley. "Poison hemlock," she continues, "is a dead-ringer for Queen Anne's lace, except for the red stem. People used to say 'the blood of Socrates is on the stem.'"

With dramatic flair borne out of years in Hollywood, Hillgrove tells many enthralling tales from history, legend and mythology to illustrate the power of plants. Digitalis, foxglove, poison hemlock, mandrake and tobacco fill her poison garden, suitably labeled so that it's impossible to miss. The showmanship is deliberate. Convinced that explaining appropriate use of plants helps youngsters avoid misusing them, she cautions that "great spirit" plants will come back to haunt you if you misuse them. She believes that ignorance of plants is dangerous and that it's important for kids to "just say 'know.'"

Mom's Head Garden, 4153 Langner Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95407 is open irregularly for classes, workshops and plant sales. For a schedule, call 707.585.8575.