The garden is a place of nourishment, learning, fun, and solace. But it's no benign environment. It's certainly not "childproof" no matter what the age of the child. The safety issues are both human-made and natural. It's impossible to avoid all potential hazards, so three things are crucial: learn as much as you can about your garden environment, teach your children what's safe and what's not, and always be watchful of your children. Let's start with the human side of the safety equation.
- Keep chemical fertilizers, weed killers, and insecticides away from children. The best option is to not have any on your property. Use natural methods instead.
- Don't let children use tools that are too big for them. Get the right kid-sized tools for the job, and teach children how to use them. Just about every tool comes in a pint-sized version. Smaller garden gear makes gardening safer and more fun.
- Test for lead. Homes built before the 1970s often have lead paint, which chips or leaches into soil around the foundations. But even new homes might have lead-contamination since so much soil is trucked from one location to another. Also at risk: homes on busy roads and homes in current or former industrial areas. Test the soil for lead, and have your children tested for lead contamination.
- Use caution with water. Water is a wonderful addition to any garden, but even a bucket of water can be dangerous for a toddler. Always supervise children around water. And if you have a pond or stream, test the water for health contaminants, and prohibit children from drinking it.
- Keep animals out of your yard. Many gardeners want to encourage wildlife, yet in the past decade the incidence of rabies, lyme disease, and other illnesses spread by animals is increasing. Make an effort to keep animals away by making sure your compost bin doesn't attract them, using fences to keep them out of the gardens, and teaching children not to approach wild animals, living or dead.
- Some people have allergies or reactions to certain plants. Figuring out which plants people react to and why is no easy task. The fact that allergies change over a lifetime contributes to the challenge. If a family member displays signs of food or allergy reactions (stuffy nose, watery eyes, dark circles around the eyes, etc.), start by seeing an allergist or naturopath. Everyone has skin reactions to some plants, such as poison ivy. Other plants cause sickness or death when ingested in part or whole. Some gardeners try to avoid all potentially poisonous plants. I say, impossible. While certainly I won't grow some plants until my children are grown, they should neither be afraid or fooled. I teach them which plants are safe to eat and touch and to not test the rest. They have a strong understanding and respect for the uses of plants. Check your plant encyclopedia for plants with poisonous parts. Here are a few: caladium, monkshood (especially the berries), oleander, poinsettia, rhododendron, bleeding heart leaves and roots, castor bean seeds, English ivy leaves and berries, foxglove leaves and seeds, hydrangea bulbs, leaves and branches, iris stems and rhizomes, larkspur, lily of the valley leaves and flowers, yew berries, and many bulbs including daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths, and snowdrop.