I WAS cutting the hedge the other day, and came across a very pretty purple and yellow bloom among the cornucopia of growth which makes up the boundary of Hextol Towers.

We only planted laurel, Leylandii and some twigs which fell from the back of a Forestry Commission wagon, but over the years, all manner of trees and bushes have somehow sprouted in the leafy exuberance.

In the past, I have noted birch, oak, sycamore, rambling roses, brambles, privet, gorse, elder, rowan and berberis falling to my trusty Black and Decker, but this yellow and purple beauty was a new one on me.

On investigation, I noted that below the flower was a cluster of acid green berries, which rang a distant little bell in the useless knowledge section of my brain.

A quick check on the internet confirmed that the beautiful intruder was a prime specimen of Atropa belladonna, better known as deadly nightshade, a plant so toxic that just two berries can kill a child and as few as 10 can result in a full grown adult being despatched to sing with the Choir Invisible.

It’s a relative of the tomato and potato, and the chilling thing is that those killer berries are just about the least dangerous part of the plant.

The roots are the really nasty bit, and chewing the leaves can send you completely round the twist in a matter of moments.

It was only after I did my research that I realised I perhaps should have been wearing the sort of gloves used for handling radioactive isotopes before I hacked the head off the Hydra and left it lying with the other debris bound for the brown bin.

I searched the mountain of foliage I had created, but failed to find them, so I wisely got the snow shovel out of the garage to scoop everything up together and tramp in down into the bin.

How the fragrant assassin came to be hiding in a Bellingham hedge is a mystery, but the romantic side of me chooses to think it may have lain dormant in the soil for a couple of millennia, ever since Sextus the Roman centurion passed through on his way to the fort at Brigantium in Rochester.

The Romans apparently used a distillation of deadly nightshade to tip their arrows so that just a scratch would leave even the most determined Pict twitching in the heather.

It is a sobering thought that at this time of year, when nature is at its most abundant and people scour hedgerows and hillsides for blackberries, bilberries, wild raspberries and the like, that someone could have been tempted by these pretty killers.

But it is always the most innocent looking things that can cause the most damage.

On a recent break on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, Mrs Hextol and I were wandering along a remote beach picking up shells and sea glass as the tide receded, when we spotted a large number of amorphous blobs on the sand.

They were enormous jellyfish, most of them bigger than a dustbin lid, looking no more harmful than a bumper plate of wobbly wonderment at a child’s birthday party.

But I know from personal experience that even the smallest of these drifting organisms can inflict unspeakable agony on anyone they brush against.

Several years ago, I was in Tossa de Mar in Spain, frolicking with the family in the choppy waters of a breezy Mediterranean, when I felt as though someone had poured a kettleful of boiling water onto my arm.

Even as I flailed at the water, churning it to foamy froth, I spotted a blob of jelly no bigger than a cotton reel drifting away with little threads dangling from its underside. In my torment, I thought I saw it grinning maliciously to itself.

I lumbered out of the water like a baby hippo which had just discovered a crocodile was lying in wait, clutching my arm, which was already displaying livid red stripes. I knew that vinegar was the sovereign remedy for such agonising stings, but we were miles from anywhere.

Enter Mrs Hextol, who rummaged in her bag and produced a handful of those little sachets of vinegar you get in some cafes.

“I knew they would come in handy,” she said mysteriously. The scars on my arm remain.