The garden, a beautiful, productive piece of nature. A place to relax and recreate. An escape from the cares of the world. Paradise on earth. Enter at your own risk. What?
Yes, the garden is a dangerous place. There are more chances of getting hurt and/or sick right here than at a child’s trampoline party. More duplicity exists in the garden than in a single episode of House Of Cards. Hard to believe right?
There is the obvious of course – insects that bite or sting, snakes that terrify, rodents that reside in places you’d rather not know about, neighbors who consistently annoy and stress you out as they lurk about the fence alongside your terrace, plants with parts that pierce, burrs that cling and, limbs that stick out just so they meet your forehead with a whack every single time you hurry by. Not to mention the likes of poison ivy and that stunning but sinister monkshood. The list of plants with all or some parts that are poisonous is extensive and for the most part, we live with them quite harmoniously. Think hellebores, lily-of-the-valley, pennyroyal, foxgloves, rhubarb, hydrangea, rhododendron, wisteria, narcissus, chrysanthemums, …
Then there are the perils in the hardscaping. Paths that turn slippery when it rains, narrow steps that are less than stable, wooden railings that can fall apart from rot, stones and hoses that can trip, you get the idea.
But, there are the sly, seemingly innocuous threats in the blur of green and bounteous beauty. Lets start with seasonal allergies that we’re all too familiar with. Grass and tree pollen are ubiquitous elements in every garden. The allergy might kick in at any age and then every now and then it might amp its intensity or simply not bother to show up at all. I myself became victim to spring allergies only in recent years. It took me a while to figure out that this was what was causing my misery. I felt relieved to identify it and at the same time, I was absurdly upset. It felt as though my best friends had turned on me. I thought they liked me!
Years ago, each time I came in from weeding in the garden, I’d discover itchy rashes on my forearms. The saps of many plants cause skin conditions that can prove quite distressing. But I couldn’t think what was affecting me in the course of pulling young don’t-want-’ems of assorted parentage. Then it occurred to me – the self-seeded euphorbias were the culprits. As I went about digging them out, some of the broken plants rubbed on my arms and caused the skin reaction. Often, saps, in combination with sunlight, will react with human skin aggressively. In my experience, this is true for figs, poppies and peonies amongst others. I’ve since learned to do much in the early or late hours of the day.
Likewise, handling hyacinth bulbs causes my hands to itch unless I wash them with soap and cool water soon after. Pricks from rose thorns are universally painful but in some like myself, it leads to long lasting wounds that hurt for days. I think the intensity is kind of disproportionate to the size of weapon. And terribly unfair. After all, I lavish so much kind attention on the offenders. I have no doubt that several undetermined, apparently common plants are responsible for my other discomforting reactions like hives and mild headaches.
Its hard to determine what will be toxic to a person until learned the hard way. By growing it. The irony is that we assume the plants we grow are harmless. The notion that any of them can hurt us is unthinkable. Yet, there are plenty of plants that adversely affect plenty of people. Quite literally, one gardener’s favorite plant is another man’s poison.
The next time you develop a mysterious itch, welt, rash, blister, swelling or, feel a tingling or pain, look to your botanical companions. There could well be a Judas in your midst.
Enjoy the gallery of rogues:
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar