UP THE GARDEN PATH

Louise Tomlin takes a look at gardens and plant related topics. This time she’s warning of unexpected hazards!

I never really used to consider the possible hazards to myself when gardening when I was younger, being of an impulsive nature I often used to find that I would pull at a weed and before I knew it, I would be quite carried away and fully involved in a lengthy gardening task ‘bare- handed’. The results at times could be rather nasty. The obvious injuriesfrom spikey thorns and sharp leaves where I risked infections from the bacteria in the soil seemed to leave me undeterred. Many times I tackled pruning large shrubs without much thought having initially started off doing some gentle dead- heading. I was so wrapped up in the job in hand, I never really associated the scratches, scars and large red- brown marks on my skin the next day with the activity – How dumb can you be?

I had a wake-up call one day after getting involved in cutting back some Euphorbia Wulfenii, one of the Spurge family. The beautiful bright green plant had taken over a border and I chopped away at it not really noticing that as I did so the white sap that was bleeding out of the stems was covering my hands, arms and my face as I brushed my hair away. I did notice a while later though that I could feel burning on my face and eyes. It became very uncomfortable, so I retreated to wash, realising that the probable culprit was the milky juice from the plant.

Fast forward several hours and I was feeling dizzy and was having trouble focussing. I put this down to having over done it gardening
on a hot day. It was looking at what appeared to be burns on my skin that set me thinking that this might be serious. It didn’t take me long to find out on the internet that the sapor latex from Euphorbia is highly toxic and you should avoid contact with your skin, mouth or eyes, that in extreme cases it can actually cause blindness!

Well I was very lucky, the burn marks on my face showed how close it was to getting in my eyes. I recovered after several days, but it definitely made me think about my gung-ho attitude to gardening. I now treat all plants with caution. The fact is there are many that appear on the toxic list that are common in our gardens and maybe because we are so used to them being there we don’t consider them a danger. There are too many for me to list here, my research says there are well over 100, so I’ve picked out just a few to warn you about. The Fig tree, Ivy and Giant Hogweed can all give you blisters and burns if your skin comes into contact with their sap.

As a general rule I would say treat all plants as dangerous, gloves on, glasses on and wear long sleeves. Better to be safe than sorry. I have pictured all of these here apart from Giant Hogweed, apologies for the lack of photo, I couldn’t get one, but I warn you if you see anything that looks like the much, much larger, hairier and scarier big brother to cow parsley, give it a very wide berth (and take a pic and report its location to environmental health please)!

That said you may think that as long as you make it your rule to avoid accidentally eating plants or coming into contact with their secretions you will be safe, but I have another warning. Laurel is a common sight in many landscaped areas, with its attractive evergreen foliage it is mainly used as hedging. You could find yourself needing to clear this shrub in the course of your work as a landscaper or fence installer, and may think it is a simple matter of chopping it, then burning it or transporting it to a dump. However, all parts of the Laurel contain cyanide, if you inhale the smoke it can make you very unwell and cause damage to your lungs (obviously inhaling any smoke isn’t good for you) and there are some tales (unsubstantiated) of unwitting gardeners who have been overcome by cyanide fumes whilst transporting Laurel to dispose of it. So do avoid being in confined spaces where you might inhale the fumes.

Take care out there!

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