If asked to come up with a list of dangers lurking in your average garden, your list would probably start with creepy-crawlies and end with the poisons used to kill them. And you'd be on the right track.
However, like any good garden, there's always a surprise and in the case of gardening and your health, it seems that age is one of the biggest risks.
According to Helen Martin-Beck, executive officer of the WA Horticultural Council, most gardeners today are "of a certain age". An ageing population of garden enthusiasts has added falls, strains and other injuries to the usual risks inherent in pottering in the backyard.
It has also spawned a new industry of specialised garden equipment and accessories to safeguard ageing green thumbs.
Innovations include raised garden beds and padded rests for ageing knees and backs, ergonomic spades and spring-loaded and ratcheted garden equipment providing greater pruning power for arthritic hands.
Mrs Martin-Beck says the WA Horticultural Council, an umbrella organisation for 60 affiliated gardening groups and societies, has its work cut out trying to encourage a love of gardening in the younger generations.
While she is loath to put anyone off gardening by highlighting its possible dangers, she's also pragmatic about the need to be prepared.
Prominent in her list of everyday garden dangers are those also nominated by the Poisons Information Centre of WA, namely bites and stings, poisonous plants and pesticides.Poisonous Plants:
Last year the PIC handled 21 cases of skin or eye irritation, rashes and dermatitis caused by plants.
The main culprits included grevillea (four cases), lantana (three), arum lily (two), English ivy (two), capsicum (two) and euphorbia (eight).
Mrs Martin-Beck said that, while the garden trend for strappy architectural plants provided a somewhat "boring" safeguard, more traditional gardens could contain risks to both people and pets. Allergies, a growing community problem, could be helped in the immediate home environment with close attention to garden plants.
Her advice was to read up on any new plants being introduced into a garden and to try to identify existing plants.
She also encouraged membership of a gardening club, a full list of which is available on horticulturalcouncil.com.au.Bites and Stings:
"I learnt the hard way that the best time to remove a wasps' or bees' nest is in the early morning or late evening," Mrs Martin-Beck said. "I tried to remove a wasps' nest from my fence during the day and they got pretty angry and one flew up my arm and stung me and it took 12 months for that bite to go."
In cases like this and also for other scratches and cuts sustained while gardening, Mrs Martin-Beck said a first-aid kit with antiseptic products was essential.
"And when working with manure, you have to keep up with tetanus injections, even if they're not pushed for people over 70," she said.
Less-experienced gardeners needed to be prepared when handling and storing compost, soils and mulches with rare cases of legionnaire's disease reported following inhalation of compost dust.
Protective clothing, including gloves and shoes, was advised for most gardening and adequate sun protection was essential.Pesticides:
The PIC nominates weed- killers and insecticides as a high risk. Any spills on skin or eye exposure requires immediate rinsing in water. Mrs Martin-Beck said that the resurgent popularity of fruit and vegetable growing meant more people used products to control plant bugs and diseases.
A basic recommendation was to read thoroughly the instructions on use, storage and disposal.
"These days you don't have to spray with toxic chemicals either," she said.
"There are all sorts of eco-type sprays on the market and you can, in some cases, also mail-order packages of special bugs that will do the same job for you naturally."
She said gardening was about balance and that meant also balancing the dangers with the health benefits.Extra information is available from the PIC 24-hour hotline on 13 11 26.
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