As a garden designer, I’m always being asked by clients to ‘make sure there are no poisonous plants’ in their plans. Unfortunately, the client is king, and I feel I’ve little option but to tug my forelock and comply. But what I really want to do is scream, “Why? Do you think your children are stupid?”
I know it’s harsh, but I have spent hours revising planting plans because some overcautious parent is paranoid that their child has nothing better to do in the garden than munch on the flowers.
Guess what – windows can be dangerous. Children could decide to jump out of them. So, do we build only bungalows, or make upstairs bedrooms, windowless boxes? No. We explain the risks to our children and tell them not to do it. We even, very radically, decide our children might have a modicum of common sense and not hurl themselves towards the street.
I have always included toxic plants in my own garden. Not because I harbour filicide tendencies, but because some of my favourite plants and most useful species happen to be would not be good on toast in the mornings.
I don’t want to dig up my autumn crocus or daffodil bulbs, nothing provides such a wonderful, dark backdrop as a yew hedge and why on earth should I be without my dicentra, lupins and foxgloves. Yet all these plants have toxic and potentially fatal elements.
However, I believe it’s easy enough for us to teach even the youngest children not to put anything in their mouth from the garden. What’s more, it’s useful for children to know that there are risks and dangers in life and learn to manage them appropriately.
I’m glad to see there are signs of attitudes changing. In April last year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) called for the introduction of specially made “wild” areas where children could wander around and take risks.
Then, last month, a guide from Play England went so far as to say “some mildly poisonous plants or berries offer both good and bad risks and that “it is almost unheard of for children to die or be permanently disabled from eating poisonous plants”. However, they also acknowledged that “this has not stopped some local authorities and others from removing traditional plants from parks and public spaces.” So the battle between common sense and the over-anxious element looks set to continue.
Right, I’m off to plant some deadly sweet pea seeds. I may be some time…