The health and safety bit

While we always recommend educating children about the possible dangers in the garden, rather than ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’ so they are never exposed to risk, there are some simple steps you should take to ensure the safety of children in your garden:

  • Protective clothing
  • Tools
  • Chemicals
  • Dangerous plants
  • Garden debris
  • Water in the garden
  • Boundary security
  • The inevitable falls
  • Dirt!

Protective clothing

When out in the garden children should always be protected by appropriate clothing. If it’s a sunny day then a broad brimmed hat, long sleeved top and sun protection cream (minimum SPF15) should be worn. You should avoid exposing children to the heat of the midday sun and encourage them to drink frequently to avoid dehydration.

When gardening, particularly if digging or handling sharp plants (which isn’t advisable for young children), children should wear sturdy gardening gloves, which are readily available in child sizes. If they are at risk of being scratched, or coming into contact with skin irritant plants, they should also wear long sleeved tops and trousers. Where they may be leaning over sharp stems or canes make sure they are wearing protective glasses or goggles (and ideally put toppers onto canes).

A pair of stout wellies will keep their feet warm and dry, and will provide some protection against a badly aimed spade.


Any tools can be a potential hazard in the hands of a child, so ensure that you always put them away after use and store them in a locked shed or out of reach of little hands. This should be doneparticularly with cutting implements or other sharp tools, including secateurs, pruners, saws and knives.

Why not purchase garden tools specifically for your child to use? Most garden centres and home improvement stores have a good range of smaller implements for children, which are both smaller, lighter and safer than the adult versions. Go shopping for them together so the child picks their own equipment, that way they’re more likely to want to use it. Give them their own place to store it, perhaps a brightly coloured wooden box they can decorate themselves, so they don’t have to root around among your tools to find theirs. If you do allow children to use some of your tools (eg your trowel or watering can) then you could tie a colourful ribbon around them, so it’s clear to the child which they can and can’t use.


All gardeners have some sort of chemicals – you might not use weedkillers or pesticides, but you will probably still have some fertilisers, hormone rooting compound or jeyes fluid sitting around. These are still chemicals and should be treated as such when children are around.

Always ensure that any chemicals are stored safely, be that in a locked cupboard or on a high shelf. Make sure that the containers are sturdy and don’t leak, so there’s no chance of chemicals falling or dripping onto the floor. Children should always be taught not to touch or consume any liquids or powders they find in the garden or shed.

Dangerous plants

When introducing children to your garden you need to remember that not all plants are safe. A large number of plants will cause stomach upsets if parts are eaten and some, such as euphorbias, cause skin irritation. It’s up to you the extent to which you remove these plants to create a child-friendly garden.

Our ethos is that it’s best to educate children never to eat part of a plant unless an adult has told them it’s safe to do so, rather than remove plants from gardens. You should also point out any plants which are spined or which can irritate the skin (and neither of these should be planted around play areas). If you teach children responsibility around plants then you’ll be more assured about their behaviour in other people’s gardens when you’re not there to watch over them. Having said that, there are a few of the common garden plants which are particularly dangerous which we would recommend removing from any gardens where children play:

  • Foxglove (Digitalis) – all parts of the plant are very poisonous
  • Laburnum – all parts of the tree are very poisonous
  • Caster oil plant (Ricinus communis) – the seeds are very poisonous
  • Rhubarb – the leaves are poinsonous
  • Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) – all parts are poisonous
  • Monkshood (Aconitum) – all parts are poisonous, particularly the root
  • Hemlock (Conium maculatum or C. chaerophylloides) – ingestion of any parts can be fatal
  • Alstromeria - can cause severe skin or eye irritation
  • Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet) – toxic if inhaled or ingested in large quantities
  • Delphinium - all parts can be fatal if eaten
  • Echium (viper’s bugloss) – All parts are toxic if eaten and can also be a skin irritant
  • Lupin - Seeds are toxic
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander) – All parts are toxic and may be fatal
  • Rue (Ruta graveolens) – All parts are toxic, and may be fatal, if eaten and can cause skin irritation
  • Calla lily (Zantedeschia) – All parts are toxic if eaten

This list is not exhaustive, a full list of potentially dangerous plants can be obtained from the RHS leaflet ‘Potentially harmful garden plants’ (available online).

You should also be vigilant for any wild fungi growing in the garden and educate children/remove the fungus as appropriate.

If you think that a child has consumed or touched anything poisonous in the garden don’t try to treat it yourself, take them immediately to your local hospital’s emergency department with a sample of the plant/fungi in question.

Garden debris

Be wary of any debris left lying around the garden, inquisitive little fingers will quickly hone in on piles of rubbish and rifle though it for something interesting. You don’t want ‘something interesting’ to be a piece of wood with nails in, shards of broken pots or an empty pesticide container. If you’ve had a garden party, make sure that any glasses or bottles are removed from the garden and any broken glass quickly and thoroughly cleared up.

When digging over part of the garden for the first time, ensure that you do it yourself initially before involving children in the job. You never know what might be buried under the surface, for example it’s not unusual to find broken glass or rusty nails in the soil.

If cats, dogs, foxes or other mammals visit your garden then have a daily check for faeces. Keep sand pits firmly covered when not in use as these can be particular favourites for cats. Remove faeces and dispose of them before children use the garden (particularly very young children) – if you don’t have pets yourself you might find it useful to have some dog ‘poo bags’ in stock for this purpose! If you have older children then why not invest in a scoop so you can go out together each morning to remove the offending messes and clear the garden, perhaps keeping a tally of how many are found to see who can clear the most?!

Water in the garden

Children love water, but water of just a few centimetres depth can be a potential drowning hazard for children. This could be water in a deliberate garden feature, or simply water in a bucket which has been left out and collected rain. This doesn’t mean you have to ban water from your garden, just use it carefully. Here are some ideas for making water safe in your garden:

  • Create a water feature which has a reservoir covered with pebbles, so you can still have a fountain or cascade, but the reserve of water is inaccessible to children.
  • Embed a strong metal grid into your water feature, so it sits just under the surface of the water. This will be virtually invisible but will prevent children being able to fall into the depth of the water.
  • Small water features can be covered with a metal grid, fixed in place over the water feature with tent pegs. While this is a less attractive solution, as it is clearly visible, it would be a good temporary solution if children only occasionally visit your garden.
  • If you have a large pond or other feature which can’t be protected in the above ways, then fence it off securely, with a locked gate to allow adult access.
  • Convert your pond or water feature into a bog garden. This will extend the types of plants you can grow in the garden and, when the children are old enough, you can turn it back into a pond.

Boundary security

OK, gardens aren’t prisons, however you need to be careful, particularly with young children, that the youngsters can’t go walkabout without your permission. Check that gates fasten securely and that the locks are out of children’s reach (even inventive children who find something to stand on). Make sure that the fencing around your garden is secure and any gaps are covered so the kids can’t wander next door (your neighbour’s garden may not be as child-friendly as yours).

The inevitable falls

Trips and falls are an inevitable part of childhood and however careful you are about ‘trip hazards’ in your garden, children will always find a way of falling over. But it is useful to take a few precautions to ‘soften the blow’.

In areas where children are likely to be climbing and, therefore, falling, ensure that they have a soft surface to land on. The simplest way to do this is with a mulch such as bark or rubber chips, laid to a depth of at least 25cm. Alternatively, specialist matting can be purchased for this purpose.

Check play equipment, such as swings, for wear regularly and keep an eye on trees which are used for climbing to ensure there aren’t any dying or damaged branches which could snap under the weight of a child.

Less dramatic falls can also be dangerous in a garden situation. If a cane is left without a safety ‘topper’ or a rake is left prongs up, then these can be very dangerous hazards for playing children.


When children have been gardening, even if wearing gloves, you should ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly afterwards, and teach them not to put their hands in their mouths (or bite their nails) or eat anything until they have washed them. If the child has any cuts or grazes on his/her hands, make sure they have a plaster over them and wear protective gloves, before they go outside.

It’s important to keep children’s (and your) tetanus jab up to date, to protect them against this particularly nasty disease which can be contracted from the soil.