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Toddler Proof Your Garden With Eugene Higgins

Thursday, 5 April 2007


Today our gardening expert Eugene Higgins is here with tips to keep your kids safe in the garden.

Small children love to use all of their senses to explore - touch, smell, sight, sound and unfortunately taste is a big one for them!

Children must be supervised in the garden until they are old enough to learn not to touch or eat the plants. Many parents fence off a safe area for their children to play in. Those that don't should be aware of the plants that are safe to eat and those that might cause harm.

With the weather on the bright side, people are hitting the garden centres in force, looking for plants to brighten up their gardens. If it is the first year that you picture your toddler running bare foot around the garden, you might be a bit concerned about what the right plants to purchase are.

While there are many plants in the garden that are dangerous, we don't want to make you paranoid and we certainly aren't encouraging you to dig up your garden and destroy your beds. We do however; want to inform you of the dangers associated with ingesting some of these plants. Research has shown the risk of harm from plant poisons is less than one in 10 million, or about the same chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightening All plants should be respected and all toddlers/ young children should be watched while roaming in the garden!

The following are a selection of plants that are active in the garden at the moment.


Azalea/ Rhododendron
All parts of this plant are toxic, especially the leaves. In parts of the US they call this plant Lambkill or Calfkill. It doesn't grow well in every garden but it is quite a common plant.
Holly (ilex)
All berries of these plants are poisonous and if you eat more than 20, it could be fatal. Berries appear during the winter and spring,
These pretty flowers that are often given to a mum on mother's day could cause diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea when ingested. They have proved fatal in the past. All parts of this plant are toxic. The bulbs have often been confused with onions.
All parts of this well known hedge are poisonous including leaves, flowers and berries.
This is a popular climber, the flowers are well known for their fragrance. All parts should not be eaten, the berries are particularly poisonous.
This is a plant that Eugene says would be in a lot of Irish gardens. It has recently been taken off many garden centre shelves because the leaves produce a sap that shouldn't be touched and certainly not ingested.

A herb garden is pretty to look at and the kids can munch away safely! The following are widely available.

Chives €1.95 - Available Nationwide
Chives belong to the same family as onions, leeks, and garlic. Although they are native to Asia and Eastern Europe, by the sixteenth century chives were common plants in herb gardens throughout Europe. Chives are hardy, draught tolerant, perennials, eight to twenty inches tall that grow in clumps from underground bulbs. The leaves are round and hollow, similar to onions, but smaller in diameter. In June or July, chives produce large round flower heads consisting of purple to pink flowers.
Mint €1.95 - Available Nationwide
Growing mint in your garden is so easy, as unlike other culinary herbs, mint practically grows itself. In fact, if you're not careful, mint can take over your whole garden, as in the right conditions it can be a bit invasive. Mint prefers partial shade and moist, moderately rich, slightly acid soil, but it will grow in any light from full sun to full shade. Pinch stem ends off each spring to keep the plants bushy and encourage regrowth.

At the end of the gardening season, prune plants back to near ground level and top-dress with compost. They will start to look ugly anyway, so you'll want to do this if for no other reason than appearance. Mint will also grow well in a pot, so if you are open to the idea of container herb gardening, or want to keep control over the space your mint appropriates for itself, this is a great plan for you to use when growing this herb. Mint plants do flower if they get enough sun, but the small pink or white flowers are not that showy, and the main reason to grow the mint plant is for the mint leaf scent. MMMM, minty!
Thyme €5.95- Available Nationwide
Thyme is a perennial native to the Mediterranean. Most varieties grow to only six to twelve inches in height, and they make an attractive edging for the perennial border. Leaves are dark gray-green in color, and pale pink flowers bloom at the tips of the stems in summer.
Rosemary €5.95- Available Nationwide
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. Its trusses of blue flowers last through spring and summer in a warm, humid environment. It will grow to a height of between 3 and 5 feet. In a warm climate it can remain in the same location for up to 30 years, but in climates where freezing temperatures are expected it is best grown in pots so that it can be brought indoors in winter.
Chamomile €1.95- Available Nationwide
Chamomile is one of the oldest favourites amongst garden herbs and its reputation as a medicinal plant shows little signs of abatement. The Egyptians reverenced it for its virtues, and from their belief in its power to cure ague, dedicated it to their gods. The blooms appear in the later days of summer, from the end of July to September, and are borne solitary on long, erect stalks, drooping when in bud. With their outer fringe of white ray-florets and yellow centres, they are remarkably like the daisy.

Top Tips for a Toddler Friendly Garden

Water features in the garden is where the danger lurks for toddlers i.e. Ponds. Older children and adults will hold their breath when their head goes underwater but young children will do the opposite. They tend to take a deep breath in order to scream, inhaling a lungful of water. This is what causes drowning, If you have a pond in your garden, you can place a safety brace in it that can go just under the water line i.e. a rigid net

If you feed the birds in your garden, hygiene is important. You must clean your bird table regularly and discard of any old food which may attract vermin or spread disease. E.g. peanuts can become poisonous if left to go soggy over several hot days of weather.

Never put any equipment near greenhouses, railings or washing lines.

Don't store chemicals anywhere that gets very hot such as greenhouses as they may give off toxic fumes or even catch fire.

If you think your child has eaten a toxic plant, remove any remains from their mouth and take a sample of the plant with you to the emergency room.

For More Information

Eugene's plant setting is provided by Blackbanks Garden Centre in Dublin.

Other poisonous plants:

Safety Brace for garden available through