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GARDENING: Safety in your garden

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Consider all aspects for yourself when working in your green space, and for people and pets using the area for recreation

With autumn here, many are gearing up for busy gardening weekends in preparation for the winter rains. Gardening is a wonderful hobby which is great for the planet and for mental health, alleviates stress and gives one an opportunity to exercise and spend time outdoors.

What safety considerations are important in the garden

Garden layout

When adding new plants, consider safety before placement. Thorny plants should not be placed along pathways or around the swimming pool area. However, they are effective when used along boundaries and can help to deter potential intruders. Also consider flowering plants that attract bees.

While we do want to encourage pollinators to our gardens, avoid planting too many bee-friendly plants around pools or children’s play areas. Ensure pathways are properly lit at night and paving or concrete walkways are level. Uneven walkways can be particularly dangerous for seniors.

Benches can tip over and result in injuries. Always place benches and ornaments on a flat surface and secure in place.

Poisonous plants

To prevent contact with the latex sap, which causes severe burning and blurry vision, use gloves and goggles when handling fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucalli). Picture: Kay Montgomery

You might have plants in your garden that are toxic. Not all poisonous plants are deadly. Some have a milder toxicity and symptoms range from skin irritations to gastrointestinal problems, disturbed vision and an irregular heartbeat.

While you might not be able to remove all poisonous plants from your garden, you should know what they are. Teach young children never to handle or place plant material in their mouths. Two common exotics found in gardens are oleander (Nerium oleander) and the moonflower (Brugmansia x candida and B. suaveolens).

The delightful hanging flowers of the moonflower make it a garden favourite but all parts of the plant are highly toxic to humans, animals and birds. Oleander is a Nemba Category 1b invasive alien and if you still have it in your garden, remove and destroy it. Berries of the common privet (Ligustrum vulgare) are enjoyed by birds but toxic to humans, dogs, cats and horses. Loads of berries ripen in autumn, so be aware. This plant is also a Category 1b invasive alien plant and must be removed by law.

Children and pets

Choose non-toxic plants for spaces around a children’s play area. Picture: Loren Shirley-Carr

Children’s play equipment should be properly anchored and placed on grass or sand for a soft landing when sliding and climbing. The SA Bureau of Standards has drafted legislation which will require property owners to have a professionally installed net or pool cover (which can take an adult’s weight) in addition to a 1.2m fence around the pool.

If children and pets have access to them, ponds should be also covered with mesh. Plants which are safe for humans can be toxic for animals, so if you share your garden with pets, learn more about plants toxic to them. Don’t use cocoa bean mulch in your garden as it contains theobromine, the chemical found in chocolate, which is toxic to dogs.

Tools and chemicals

All the chemicals you use for your garden or pool must be locked away, out of reach of uninformed persons, children and pets. If you do opt to use chemicals in your garden, use protective clothing when applying them and adhere to the manufacturers’ guidelines for mixing and application.

Keep pets indoors, as advised. Always use the right tool for the job. DIY injuries often occur when tools are used for jobs other than those for which they were designed.

Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for tool use. When operating power tools, like a weed eater or hedge trimmer, use protective gear, like gloves and goggles to prevent limb and eye injuries Store tools in a safe place. A tool shed need not be an eyesore but part of the overall design of the space.

Protect yourself

Gardening gloves protect hands from injury. Picture: Gardena

Consider these health and hygiene guidelines when working in your garden:

◆ Wear a hat and sunscreen with a high SPF. Remember to reapply through the day.

◆ Have a good breakfast before you head out to work.

◆ If you are going to be doing particularly heavy work, do stretches to warm your muscles before you begin. Take a walk around the garden.

◆ Use gloves to protect your hands from pathogens in the soil, injuries, insect bites and stings.

◆ Wear a good pair of shoes or gumboots to protect your feet.

◆ Wear knee pads if you do a lot of work at ground level. Rather kneel than bend from your waist. Bend at your knees when you pick up heavy objects.

◆ Keep hydrated during the day.

◆ If you are working through the day, have snacks and lunch to keep up energy levels


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