Beware of the dangers lurking in the garden

If wishes count for anything, a long, hot summer beckons, and if you have a garden, that should be the ideal place to relax.

Saturday, 27th April 2019, 4:40 pm
Rose petals look beautiful and are also safe to eat, but not all plants are as harmless. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

However, certain dangers can lurk there, and this is an ideal time to consider a simple safety check that might prevent any mishaps.

Unsure what those dangers might be? Visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) online and key in ‘Gardening’.

Ornamental plants are an important aspect of any garden safety check. Whenever an attractive group of blooms come into view, there’s an urge to touch, sniff and explore its properties.

This natural response, which seems quite harmless, goes against evidence and better judgement, which demands a serious note of caution. Many common or garden plants have poisonous properties.

Gerrard, the 16th century herbalist, had this in mind when he wrote the Latin equivalent of ‘Appearances Are Not Always To Be Trusted’ in relation to plants.

It’s a message delivered daily by Alnwick Poison Garden guides. Visitors are told that once through the locked iron gates, they must stay together and not touch, taste or smell any of the hundred or so plants. The surprise on recognising varieties growing in their own gardens confirms the value of this important educational facility.

Innocent-looking aquilegia (ladies’ bonnets), poppies, hebe, laburnum and assorted bulbs are but some of a recognisable variety of plants that have dark, hidden secrets.

At the beginning of a growing season, if not for yourself, but for children who play in the garden, ask: “Are all the plants I’m growing safe to handle?”

The family Ranunculaceae has several high-profile poisoners, including monkshood, hellebore, foxglove, delphinium and buttercup species.

Recognised in ancient Greece as the queen of poisons, aconitum (monkshood) was used on arrow tips in warfare, and later in a poisonous bait for wolves, which explains the other common name, wolfsbane. Recent times have seen its criminal use in the poisoning of humankind.

More reason that we wear gloves in the handling of this and other suspect plants, and always wash our hands after gardening.

Foxglove is one of life’s colonisers, springing up all over the garden and so attractive, but the leaves contain deadly digoxin, which can adversely affect the heart.

Christmas and Lenten roses (hellebores), so popular, have emetic properties and were used as a purgative. The sap contains poisonous cardiac glycocides.

Delphinium seeds contain various alkaloids and are very toxic.