Early alarm call that won’t be silenced

Tom Pattinson gardening pics.
Tom Pattinson gardening pics.

NO need for alarm clocks or early call orders at this time of year. If the breaking daylight fails to stir sleepy heads then surely the dawn chorus must.

Then once early morning rituals have been observed, what better way to celebrate being alive than a gentle stroll around the garden – cup in hand.

Tom Pattinson gardening pics.

Tom Pattinson gardening pics.

All is quiet and unhurried, with the exception of nesting birds, and it is at times such as this that all the well-meant verse, written over the centuries and directed at the joy of a garden, seems to hit the nail on the head.

How can anyone not enjoy checking to see how the newly-planted border ornamentals have recovered in their move from pot to ground, or whether a row of radish seed has germinated, even though it was only sown two days ago. The walk continues, taking in fruit sections to observe the cropping potential. Okay, so it’s only at the embryo stage, but it is the promise shown that matters at this time of morn.

Central to this daily journey are the pathways that lead to surprise areas created by groups of colourful shrubs. Strategically-placed seats encourage a pause to reflect on a different vista. Then arguably the best treat is kept until last, and at this time of year that is the greenhouse, where you can almost see the movement as plants grow.

The picture painted here must appear idyllic but that is the way it seems at dawn and dusk – before and after the day’s work is complete. What comes in between is the business or sharp end of summer gardening and that needs some serious thought in terms of risk.

At one end of the scale we have heavenly floral displays and ‘The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of a bird for mirth, you are nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.’ While at the other is the harsh reality of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) annual statistics.

They suggest that well over one quarter of a million people will visit a hospital accident and emergency unit over the course of this year, following a mishap in some garden – 100,000 of these will have been injured while gardening. It would appear that making our gardens safer places for visitors and thinking risk assessment before undertaking tasks ourselves might help.

If two thirds of the total accidents relate to visitors or family and friends simply relaxing in the garden, and the majority of those incidents is the result of a fall, securing a level pathway that is firm underfoot would be a good starting point.

Repair loose or broken flagstones, don’t allow slippery algal growth to colonise and watch your tread after rain or frost.

Garden debris can cover a multitude of items from a recently-used hosepipe to loose canes or stones. It has no place on a path.

When two little friends aged two and four visit, they spend very little time indoors. The garden draws them in like a magnet and exploration is all. So it behoves us to be prepared for the safest ‘dangerous’ play possible by being there with one of their parents and following some ground rules.

Even the shallowest pool carries an element of danger so kneel on the flagstones surrounding it, rather than standing over it, becoming mesmerised and unbalancing. The site chosen should be clearly visible from the house. If these youngsters were in residence it would be safer to either fill the pool in or turn it into a sandpit temporarily.

Anyone thinking seriously about a child’s natural instinct to reach out and touch a solid object, will surely not leave a lawn mower unattended, running or not.

The same applies to tools with sharp edges, chemicals and a host of otherwise normal gardening equipment. Out of sight, out of reach and locked away when not in use is the safest policy.

Perhaps the greatest continuing threat comes from the innocent-looking plants in your garden.

Gerrard the herbalist, whose life spanned the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was way ahead of his time in writing ‘appearances are not always to be trusted’. Visitors joining tours at the Alnwick Poison Garden are generally surprised to discover that some popular plants, they’ve bought at garden centres, contain toxic substances.

Many will say in horror ‘I have foxglove, monkshood, aquilegia, hellebore, arum – even bulbs such as narcissi and crocus.’ Many more could be added to this list of plants, poisonous to humankind, that can cause serious harm if ingested.

Some can inflict mechanical and chemical injury, others are photosensitisers which result in a skin sensitivity to daylight conditions after contact. There is also a great range of allergenic plants common to most of us – achillea being one of them.

Even hedging plants are not beyond suspicion. Blue-purple fruits of woody nightshade occasionally grow up through our privet, which also bears it’s own brand of poisonous berries. Holly berries are okay for birds but in keeping with ivy are poisonous for us. And never trim a laurel hedge then carry the prunings in an enclosed vehicle to the recycling facility.

Consider a few ball park figures for a typical year of gardening-related accidents before your outdoor activities really get under way. Cuts (19,000), falls (18,000), lawn mowers (6,500), flowerpots (5,000 plus), and hedge trimmers (3,000 plus) are significant.

Spending £20 to £30 on a good residual current breaking device to use with any electrically powered gardening tool might just save your life.