Since my son was one, I have been telling him “you need to share!” This message seems flawed because most of us don’t really want to share. Since gaining a husband, a dog and having a child, I am now forced to share the garden with three other creatures. I have learned that tolerance and compromises are a must.
Creature #1 – My toddler Gus
Children can be very destructive, so I have made a few attempts to child proof the garden. I have dedicated a small section to Gus and his outdoor construction toys. This area has exposed soil for him to dig in and the only down side is having to frequently weed it as nature abhors bare ground. This spring, I am going to plant an ecolawn mixture and if it gets dug up, no big deal. I am not sure I will have the luxury of actually letting the ecolawn get established without anyone trampling it.
Planting herbs, edibles and flowers in tall raised beds has been successful in deterring toddler predation. This has generally worked, although there have been times when Gus has climbed into the beds with his metal backhoe and destroyed an entire winter cover crop. I have gotten more savvy and now recruit him to plant the cover crop seeds so he remembers there is something in there.
Another way to child proof is not to plant anything that is toxic or stings. I have a small patch of stinging nettles in the front yard and while they are not easily accessible, it is a valuable teaching opportunity for him to learn this plant so he can avoid it in the wild. We talk about nettles so he understands they will sting if he touches them.
My days of planting members of the Datura genus such as Angel’s trumpet and moon flower are basically on hold. While many of its members are toxic if ingested, most parts of these plants contain toxic hallucinogens, so if you happen to touch them and rub your eye, your pupils will dilate potentially resulting in a trip to the ER where your toddler looks like they just took a hit of LSD. Best to avoid this scenario.
Other common toxic plants include; hellebores, foxgloves, rue, bleeding heart, lily, iris, daphne, and deadly nightshade, a very common invasive garden weed. English ivy, which can be found in many gardens, is very toxic to cats and one seed from the castor bean plant can kill a dog if ingested. Giant hogweed looks very similar to the NW native cow parsnip. It grows as tall as 7 feet and can cause a nasty rash.
We take our kids berry picking and we harvest plants from our gardens, which sends the message that (all) plants are safe to eat. As a child gets older, it is helpful to explain they cannot pick any old berry and eat it unless they can correctly identify them or ask an adult.
Just when I thought my indoor plants were safe, last weekend Gus used his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sword to hack a few of my houseplants. There is not much left of my Christmas cactus and it is safe to say it will not be blooming this December or ever again.
Creature #2 – Buddy Collie (the border collie)
Buddy Collie is a good guy and generally behaves himself in the garden for two reasons. One, there are raised beds so he cannot trample the herbs, edibles, and flowers. Two, I have left a 3-foot perimeter between my shrub and berry border and the fence line. A vet friend once told me dogs like to wander the perimeter of their yard. If there is a fence, that is where they will likely patrol to do their business. This has been true of all three of our dogs. Buddy still chases squirrels in the yard, but there is not much I can do about that. Herding is in his canine genes.
Creature #3 – My husband
One year, my husband wanted to plant corn. He is from Iowa, so of course he wants to grow corn. I was not really on board because corn requires lots of water and the cooler nights of the NW are not conducive to its preferred grow conditions. We (I) agreed to take up precious raised bed space for TJ’s corn and while it did not taste very good, we ate it. The unexpected surprise was for me was how tall the corn grew and formed a natural wall physically separating our garden from the driveway. I thought this looked great. Also, Gus loved watching the corn grow and repeatedly referred to it as “daddy’s corn.” It was well worth the extra water that summer.
Ever once in a while, my husband comments about how “overgrown” the native plants in the front yard look and how he wishes they were more tame. Sorry, but no compromise there because they are native, wild and will remain as nature intended.