Gardening Dangers

My recent post,  Aconitum Anxiety, led me to think on the possible hazards I face at work – as any report of a gardener’s sudden death is apt to do.   Not that I worry too much about danger and mortality but it did remind me that I wilfully ignore some gardening safety advice.  There is an awful lot of general do’s and don’ts and we all make choices on what we adhere to and what we ignore.  Let’s face it; some advice seems excessive for the perceived risk or simply too inconvenient.  For instance, I ought to wear sunblock and a sun-hat against skin cancer.  And I do … mostly.  But if the sun suddenly pops out on a grey day, I don’t run for sun-cream or hide in the shade until it slips away again.  And far too often I will mow all day in full sun with no protection which, frankly, is just stupid.  There is an argument for always wearing gloves when gardening but as I like the ‘feel’ of my job (and my tetanus jabs are up to date) I only pull on a pair against obvious hurt.   I know there is a real danger from spore and bacteria inhalation when turning compost, yet I don’t wear a dust mask (as recommended by the RHS).  Should I?  Probably.  Does anyone I know use one?  No, they don’t.  And frankly I don’t want to: forking rotting, smelly compost is hot enough work without a face mask.  Besides, masks fog up my glasses.  I’ll take the risk.

White Foxglove

I also know, of course, that some plants are potentially dangerous but I choose not to remove them.  Aconitum napellus is a good example and neither would I consider felling the Priory laburnum (seed pods and other parts lethal if eaten.  Haven’t you read ‘My Cousin Rachel‘?).  On the other hand, a client once asked me to dig up all the foxgloves in her garden for fear her children would be poisoned.  Personally, I thought that was excessive but hey, her garden, her decision.

East Pond

The east pond

I see the Priory ponds as a huge aesthetic bonus as well as fantastic wildlife habitats.  But however delighted I might find the big expanse of water, parents with young children will probably view them with unease and be reminded of the ‘Don’t Look Now‘ drowning .

Frozen East Pond

The east pond with snowball!

And with just cause.  One winter, a few years ago, my partner, young son and I had a terrific snowball-fight.  Unnoticed, Solo our stinky terrier, mesmerised by whistling white balls overhead, rushed out on to the frozen pond to retrieve one.  She scampered half way across – where the ice was thinnest – crashed through and was unable to climb out.  In the nick of time, we saw her struggling to keep her head above water and Jim waded out into the freezing cold to haul her out.

Solo on ice

An old ‘phone photo of Solo on the frozen pond

It was a scary episode: especially as it happened so very quickly and right in front of us.  Solo never walked on ice again: indeed she didn’t even swim again.  Right below our noses, she almost drowned that day.  So yes, I understand the dangers open water present.  And I sympathise with the family who bought our cottage above the Priory.  I was very pleased with two small ponds in the garden and with the wildlife they attracted.  But the new owners, with two toddlers, immediately filled them in and replaced them with lawn.  I was a little saddened but can’t say I blame them.

Obviously there are times when extra care or action is a no-brainer: wobbly step ladders (a cliché – but, no-brainer or not, I continue to use one!); treacherous slippery paths; carelessly cast power cables with no circuit breaker; dead branches ready to fall; etc, etc, etc.  And always when using power tools.  A few weeks ago, a friend of mine fiddled with a mower before first switching it off and lost the top third of a finger.  About the same time, I strimmed the lawn edges at the Old Forge, whipped up a pebble and smashed a car window (not on purpose!).  Expensive for me but better than hitting someone in the face.  Since when, I treat machinery with more care and respect than I did before.

Toffee the Viszla

Despite her expression, Toffee the viszla has no fear of water – unlike old Solo

Having alarmed you with all this talk of danger, I should add that in all my years as a working gardener, I haven’t suffered anything worse than a bad back and laceration by thorns … and I’d very much like to keep it that way.  I’ve given just a few examples of gardening peril – I have several more and I’m sure you have scary tales too.  We all make ‘health and safety’ choices based on personal judgement, probability and, I hope, common sense.  Sometimes I get it wrong or something happens which I didn’t or couldn’t foresee.  Life’s like that but I try not to worry about the unknowable.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t step outside my front door … let alone pick up a chainsaw.

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35 thoughts on “Gardening Dangers

  1. My dad doesn’t believe in health and safety. When I lived at home he’d disappear off into the garden and get up to allsorts. I once found him dangling from a wall as the ladder had fallen away and there was the time he electrocuted himself!!! As a result I’ve gone slightly the other way, certainly where ladders and electricity are concerned and we have all the appropriate gear. I’m with you on the compost though. I did read about Legionnaire’s Disease being spread by compost and did think about wearing a mask. But, in reality, if I’m just popping out to do a bit of potting up then it’s just not going to happen. I’d like to see the face of the photographer and editor next time I do something for a magazine if I turned up with a mask on. 😉

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    • Well, I’m just relieved your Dad has survived his disbelief in health and safety. I’ve yet to be electrocuted – phew – but did once grasp an electrified stock fence. I was showing off and as I had stayed on a pig farm as a kid I knew that the pulse wasn’t too powerful. Shame then that the one I grabbed was for keeping bullocks in rather than sensitive pig snouts and so was far more powerful. I must have been jolted six foot back and it felt like my heart stopped. I wouldn’t bother trying that if I were you! D

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  2. I think being safe is about keeping your mind fully on what you’re doing at any given moment. You don’t want to be daydreaming when you have a chainsaw in your hands.
    I too have done all of the things you mention over the years without incident but I think experience with the tools I was using and knowing my own ability was probably what kept me from harm. And, as Eliza says, a good dose of common sense doesn’t hurt.

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  3. My dog is full of stitches almost every year from one thing and another and currently you could chart all the bruises on the kids’ shins from their newly found skill of mountain-biking. Children and animals are much less influenced by risk…
    Scary thoughts Mr Anxious,
    Hey, I’m off to mow the lawn.. ;0)

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  4. I have had several mishaps in the garden over the years – I once had a bonfire and set my hair alight, chopped the end of my finger off with a hedge trimmer, speared my foot with a garden fork. But I live to tell the tale. There are plenty of hazards out there but it hasn’t stopped me gardening – all part of life’s rich pattern eh.

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  5. I think it is good to stop and pause from time to time and remember that just because “it has never happened to me” that accidents do and will happen. As always, your points were beautifully illustrated. Amelia

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  6. I was thinking about our tiny computer system at work the other day–4 computers and a server is all, but our tech guy is so concerned about safety that he denied us all access to everything we need to do routine updates, file sharing, etc. We are so safe that we can’t function. All as an indirect way of saying, dust masks: no. (Barriers to open water near toddlers, on the other hand, and reasonable precautions with power tools: yes.)

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    • It sounds like you’ve wanted to get that off your chest, Stacy. Sorry to hear you’re having work problems. Tech guys eh? Can’t live without them, can’t live …..

      If it’s any consolation (and why would it be?) I had to help Margaret pull a dead calf out of a fence this morning. It was less than a day old, had got trapped and died overnight. Not a great start to a week and I really felt for Margaret who works so very hard for her animals. But it did rather throw all my grumbles into relief. Dx

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      • Well, I hoped it would come across as a case study about how perfect safety is incompatible with action, but yes. We have been seething a bit. (Sorry.)

        That poor calf! What a sad, lonely way for it to die. And poor Margaret (and you), too. You’re right, Dave–it’s easy to lose perspective about what really counts as a big thing. x

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  7. Last night I started rooting some cuttings and I actually read the instructions on the bottle of rooting hormone! They were so foreboding I took every precaution plus I added goggles, which is kinda funny because I’ve uses rooting hormone before with no precautions!

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    • Oh dear. Well, I used to use rooting powder all the time when I worked in an alpine nursery – for days on end! So I’d rather not think about the dangers associated with it. I don’t use it any more but still manage decent results, btw. D

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  8. There are so many poisonous plants in the garden, I think you should teach your kids from an early age not to touch or eat something without asking first, also inside a house there are many dangers for kids ! As for the pond, we put a fence arround it, it’s not really pretty but rather that that a dead child ofcourse….And inhaling all sorts in the garden will only make you stronger and less prone to illness, these days too much gets desinfected, people in 3rd world countries are a lot stronger !

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    • I agree Gwennie. Even were you to remove all the questionable plants from your garden, there will always be neighbour’s and family member’s gardens and parks and woodland. And better to develop a a strong immunity in your child than constantly disinfect everything with anti-bacterial wipes. D

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  9. Many years ago I was electrocuted by a cut cable without a power breaker, my hand went into spasm and I could not let go until I summoned every ounce of will power to force my hand open as only my two small children were around to help. Thankfully just some entry and exit wounds on my now gnarled gardeners hands. And a strimmer once sent a stone through the sitting room windows here, luckily operated by my husband and not me! Both were lessons learnt the hard way, rather than heeding any advice. I am glad all was well with Solo, I took an intake of breath reading your post, ice and water are so frightening.

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    • That must have been very scary with the cut power cable, Julie – I’m relieved that I haven’t had that experience. I’ve always been fairly careful when strimming and I’d never broken any glass before. As soon as I had though, I began to hear tales of other people doing the same, including a friend who smashed a very expensive patio door. Gulp. You certainly can teach an old dog new tricks. Solo had always loved water but, as I say, she never went in again after the ice incident. D

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  10. Very glad your icy dog story had a happy ending. Ponds are tricky. I almost bought one of those solid metal grid things you can put over a pond to prevent toddlers falling in when our relatives started producing children. In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to either spend the money for such an unlikely event or spoil the view of the surface of the pond. Fortunately when my second oldest nephew took a nose dive into the pond I was right there to yank him out again. But I will never forget that heart-stopping moment, which seemed to stretch for hours, seeing him lie there face down and unmoving. The lack of movement was just shock, and he shows no fear of water, unlike your dog. And I will eventually put a pond in this back garden too. Life is risky, if well lived, I refuse to fog up my glasses with a face mask to turn the compost, but am happy to double check that I have the circuit breaker on – and from now on will be more careful to unplug electrical devices before prodding them, ouch…

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    • Hi Janet, part of the delight with my little ponds (which were subsequently filled in) was watching sparrows bathe on the pebbles that shelved in at either end. A metal grille would have put a stop to that and also stopped easy entry for frogs and what have you.
      Blimey. Seeing your nephew fall in face down and unmoving must have been truly awful. THAT must have been a ‘Don’t Look Now’ moment. Good for you – and I love that super-hero cape on you. Very smart.
      Nick (my friend who lost part of his finger) is fine now. He only noticed what he had done when he saw the blood! I’ve told him it will be jolly useful for halves when counting! Dave

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  11. It is a shame the family with the ponds couldn’t have put some protection over them to stop the children falling in, but I don’t blame them for filling in the ponds. You hear of too many cases of young children drowning. We filled in our little ornamental pond (which was no use to wildlife at all!) before our young grandchildren came to stay.
    There are so many plants that are poisonous in the garden, that we wouldn’t have much left if we took them all out. Besides most things actually have to be eaten to cause real harm and surely it is only very young children that would do that? Mind you I shudder when I think of the young me playing with foxgloves on my fingers. . . . . . . . . .and I have only just learnt to use gloves when dealing with Aconitum.
    Face mask when turning the compost? – I hadn’t even heard of that one. Good job I don’t do it very often then!

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    • I’d dug those ponds when we first moved in and had been so delighted with the frogs, newts, dragonflys and grass-snakes that quickly appeared. But no, I didn’t blame the new owners either. I think you’re right that only very young children tend to put things into their mouths – and where would you draw the line at what is dangerous and what is just going to cause a stomach upset? I certainly didn’t worry very much when our son was very young. Perhaps I ought to have but I found it hard to imagine him grazing randomly on garden plants. Dave

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    • Sorry Meta – didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sure there is a very doable post about dangers in the house too. I put my back out the other week scrubbing the bathroom floor. Well. I shan’t be doing that again! Dave

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