Q.I work with pre-schoolers and wish to plant some bulbs. Could you tell me which bulbs are poisonous to children, as I have heard that daffodils and crocuses are.
Also what kind of soil is safe for nursery aged children to garden with? Bearing in mind that they have a tendency to play with it and sometimes try to eat it!
(C.G, 4 March 2009)
A.What a great thing to do with your youngsters – every bit as much fun and just as informally educational as planting seeds, but without all the fiddle for tiny fingers!
You’re absolutely right; unfortunately many of the kinds of bulbs that instantly come to mind are poisonous, though mostly only if they themselves are eaten – although the daffodil is an obvious exception to this rule, with almost all of the plant being potentially harmful.
The whole thing becomes even more complicated because with a number of plant families – lilies being one example – while some of the members are safe, others are poisonous, so you really need to be sure what you’re buying and check with your garden centre or supplier that the particular variety you’re getting really is harmless.
So What Can I Grow?
There would seem to me to be two ways to go. The problem with most poisonous bulbs tends to be when they’re eaten – so small bulbs such as snowdrops or crocuses that can easily end up in a mouth are certainly out.
However, you could consider larger bulbs – hyacinths, for example – which although they’re poisonous, won’t fit inside a youngster’s mouth very easily, and which kiddie teeth can’t readily bite into. This could also be a great excuse to tell the kids about poisonous plants in general. Obviously you’d have to get them to plant the bulbs wearing gloves, watch them like hawks and make sure they wash their hands afterwards – but learning that not everything in the garden is good for you at an early age is an important lesson. More to the point, it might even save their lives one day!
Do get some professional advice and check with your employers, children’s parents and insurance provider first, before you start – there may be a whole host of legal reasons why you shouldn’t do this. Although generations of children – myself included – seem to have survived bulb-planting unscathed, these days, it’s best to err heavily on the safe side!
Plant Something Edible
Perhaps the safest bet of all is to pick a bulb which is actually intended to be eaten. The best candidate would be onions – which is a stroke of luck, since now is the perfect time to be getting them into the soil. Although their flower doesn’t have the colour or patterns of many of the traditional garden bulbs, it’s still a pretty impressive affair, with the added bonus that there’s a small edible crop for your youngsters to take home at the end of the season.
Toddlers eating soil is one of those iconic images of childhood – but it’s not so much fun if you’re responsible for the mess! When it comes to the safest growing medium, sterilised compost wins hands down – or you might like to experiment with hydroponics and try growing bulbs in water. Bringing on hyacinths for Christmas in specially shaped jars was a regular pastime when I was a child; I’ve no idea whether it would work for onions – but I can’t see why it shouldn’t, so it might be worth giving it a go.
Whatever you do decide to grow – the very best of luck; sounds like the kids are in for a lot of fun!