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07/06/2013 at 19:58

I have been asked to design a wildlife friendly garden in a woodland site that has no toxic plants in it. It is for a school so all plants must be safe. I have been looking at native plants & all seem to be toxic in some way. Please help

07/06/2013 at 20:13

If you have to do this then you could stick to edible plants and veg. Trouble is most of them want sun.

I was taught from an early age that many plants are poisonous and should not be eaten.  Maybe that is the way forward.  A  non toxic world would be nice but it's not reality.

07/06/2013 at 20:17

Oh dear, isn't a school about educating children?  Many native plants have some levels of toxicity - I grew up in the countryside and we were taught from a young age which plants we should not eat and which we could suck the nectar from (primroses and cowslips).  We went on Nature Walks where we were shown what was what.  We had holly and ivy to decorate the school at Christmas, but they are toxic, and picked bunches of daffodils in the spring, but they're toxic too.  

Sorry, that's probably not very helpful - but education is not about wrapping children in cotton wool - and I know it's not your fault - sorry. 


07/06/2013 at 20:36

Thank you for your comments but I have a tight brief. The area is wooded & I cannot use plants that are toxic. Again help me!

07/06/2013 at 20:51

Primroses and violets to start with then.  


Dog rose - rosa canina on the edges where it can get some sunshine, 

Blackberry - ditto

Woodland strawberry - Fragaria vesca - again where they can get some sunshine

White and purple deadnettles

I shall carry on thinking ............................


 Do you have room for some shrubs?

07/06/2013 at 21:00

honeysuckle, that can be sucked as well.

07/06/2013 at 21:01

But the berries are poisonous 

07/06/2013 at 21:07

are they? I've never tried one  

07/06/2013 at 21:17

Moira someone somewhere is going OTT!  I don't imagine the children are going to eat the plants are they?

I'm not sure what you mean by toxic.  Most country children survive surrounded by "toxic" plants.

I have to say your post actually makes me rather cross.  Perhaps your pupils would be safer in a concrete yard!

07/06/2013 at 21:22

Maybe thats because you had more sense, Nutcutlet.

But you have to be taught the difference between Mushrooms and toadstools. You can't find out by trial and error.

Rhubarb leaves are full of oxalic acid, but we still eat rhubarb. Education should teach about the bad things as well as the good.  I agree with dove, you can't wrap kids in cotton wool. Better to learn in a safe environment than assume everything is safe and find out too late that it's not.

07/06/2013 at 21:26

I work on a site where children with moderate and severe learning disabilities come to stay for respite - the gardens are lovely (if a bit overgrown) and were planted long ago with lots of interesting plants, including laurel, honeysuckle, foxgloves, daffodils, crocus, crocosmia, holly, ivy, hydrangeia petiolaris, dogwood, etc etc etc.  

As I said the children who come to us have moderate and severe learning disabilities, including challenging behaviours such as pica  

We haven't poisoned any yet 

07/06/2013 at 21:34

I feel sorry for the kids, having their education limited by the fear and ignorance of the educators

07/06/2013 at 22:02

Very true is rather sad. Health and Safety don't really figure in the plant world...

Besides, toxicity in a typical native woodland garden would hardly even compare to the toxicity urban children have to endure passively every day through the crappy air they breathe, the pesticides in foods they ingest etc etc...

Blimey, what's wrong with teaching them something useful, like how to recognise and avoid certain plants? And also how toxic plants can also be extremely useful in medicine and science perhaps? (digoxin from digitalis for example).

We went on school trips back in the 70s and that's what it was all about!

Sorry Moira - I know my post won't help you, but is there no way you can get around these obviously ridiculous health and safety protocols at all? They will somewhat stunt your creativity in designing this, I fear, which is a shame as you are clearly enthusiastic and deserve more help than we can give!

Good luck

07/06/2013 at 22:05

moira, the people making your rules won't know a daisy from a daffodil. just palnt what you like

07/06/2013 at 22:06

Ps: define "toxic" - how much, how little, airborn, touch, by ingestion - what exactly?!

07/06/2013 at 22:07


07/06/2013 at 22:13

Well, one thing is for sure - the brief can't be changed. So lets try and meet the brief - get ya thinking caps on people.

What kind of plants you after ( grasses, flowers, friut...veg etc)- and what size space you covering ? you need big plants, little plants, shade loving plants, full sun.....

07/06/2013 at 23:20

I've found the way around having anything that comes under the umbrella of H&S is to devise a carefully constructed risk assessment for the area, given what you would like to put into it (I'm also a teacher, and one who signs off risk assessments). What about bluebells (bulbs) and forget me not (really easy to grow from seed). Have you considered those dedicated wildlife packs from seed (scatter and water), there are lots of different mixes of seeds, with many consumer requirements!   If its a woodland area you are limited, but the other suggestion is hellibores or tobacco plants, which may grow. Just make sure that all are placed within your risk assessment, based on the students that will visit / work there. (Don't forget the staff with hayfever too!)  Hope this helps.

07/06/2013 at 23:22

I think maybe going back to the school and asking to change the brief might help. It sounds like it was written by someone who has no understanding of plants and would probably be better written by yourself. For example medical Digitalis is used in the treatment of heart conditions, the plants are found all over the place yet how many children do we hear of getting sick from eating Foxgloves?

Surely a garden that transcends many different subjects is more useful to a school than an empty one devoid of any tiny risk.

08/06/2013 at 06:26

I wouldn't mind betting that the school already has some 'toxic' plants on site - many school have a privet hedge - mustn't eat that!  But then no one does - same with ivy, holly, beech, and so many trees - their leaves would make you ill if you ate too many and so they are described as toxic, but .............. 


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