Plants to avoid if you have kids

Most kids enjoy the garden and many parents do their best to foster an interest in plants and where vegetables and fruits come from. But sometimes kids’ exuberance and curiosity can get the better of them and while warning them against eating berries is a natural precaution, other dangers can be less obvious.

Thorns are a big problem and it’s not always obvious to parents or kids when plants are thorny as the prickles can be hidden by the leaves. Plants causing skin reactions are another problem, and one that is hidden even more effectively – until it’s too late. Different parents have different places where they draw the line over what to allow in the garden. But think about these five plants if you have them in your garden.

Barberry (Berberis)

Barberries are popular deciduous and evergreen shrubs, many are ideal in size for small gardens. But a few have vicious thorns up to 3cm long and, to make matters worse, they’re hidden behind evergreen leaves. Berberis julianae is the most often seen of these vicious types, it can do a lot of damage to tender young skin. The more common types lose their leaves in winter and the thorns are shorter but still nasty; you really don’t want to even pick up prunings without wearing leather gloves. Safest not to plant them, and best to dig out any you already have.

Giant hogweed (Heracleum)

This plant has sent any number of kids to hospital. It’s a large member of the carrot family, 2m tall or more, with wide domed flower heads and huge, dramatically divided dark green leaves. The problem is that the sap is phytotoxic: that is, when the sap gets on the skin exposure to sunlight can cause nasty blisters. Rubbing the eyes after handling the plant can be very dangerous and kids sometimes use the long, straight, hollow stems as blowpipes which can result in severe inflammation of the lips. Never ever plant it and remove it if it turns up in the garden or play area. Rue (Ruta) can cause similar problems.

Holly (Ilex)

Holly. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Most hollies have nasty prickles around the edges of their leaves; some even have them sticking up out of the flat part of their leaves as well. But that’s not the worst part. When the leaves eventually fall off they dry up, turn brown and stiff and become very, very sharp. And it’s when kids are playing on the ground that their little fingers can get hurt; they really don’t want to find one in the middle of a snowball. There are one or two hollies that have no prickles, the one called ‘J. C. van Tol’ is most likely to turn up in garden centres, and it has plenty of berries too so it’s a very good alternative.

Roses (Rosa)

rose thorns
Rose thorns. Image: Fotolia

What, don’t plant roses? Surely that can’t be right… Well, here we’re in that middle ground of parental attitude. Some will say: “no thorns in my garden, it’s just too dangerous”. Some will say: “We’ll tell ‘em, but they’ll have to learn for themselves”. With roses, it’s the running about and grazed arms that are a concern. But just look at the roses on sale; a few have stems packed with thorns; even the flowers buds are thorny. Most have far fewer. One, ‘Zepherine Drouhin’, has no thorns at all. And it’s a long-flowering fragrant pink climber and well worth growing anyway. So choose carefully, that’s all.

Stinging nettle

What? Stinging nettles? Why would you want stinging nettles in the garden? Well, here’s the thing. We can plant butterfly bush and ice plant to attract adult butterflies, but what about their caterpillars? That’s where stinging nettles come in because the caterpillars of some butterflies feed on the leaves of stinging nettles and so we’re now being encouraged to plant them in the garden. No. OK, you can eat the young shoots. Still, it’s no. There are plenty of stinging nettles around without having them in the garden where the kids can fall into them.

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