Skip to content

Preventing injuries in the garden

I escaped death in the garden by half an inch last week while pushing a cracked bamboo pole into all-too-solid soil. It abruptly broke vertically.

I escaped death in the garden by half an inch last week while pushing a cracked bamboo pole into all-too-solid soil.

It abruptly broke vertically. The force of pushing threw my head forward and a long, sharp dagger of bamboo skimmed past the carotid artery in my neck.

I shan't be using or saving damaged bamboo poles any more.

It's interesting that almost all articles on gardening injuries focus on back problems. Yet I've spoken with gardeners who have stranger, more serious, yet equally preventable accidents.

Gardeners on slopes, for instance, sometimes fall off retaining walls if they have no barrier.

Rockeries also need caution, especially because heavy rain can silently erode the soil that supports the stonework.

Aging really complicates rock gardening. I recall a wonderful West Vancouver gardener who was in her 90s and still actively planting. She explained she had no problem getting up into her rockery, but couldn't always get down again.

Large rockeries can be quite a problem for older gardeners even if they're willing to crawl from spot to spot.

Woodland slopes are easier, even when steep. Wielding a long pole in each hand, one can stride along, almost flying over them, and when gardening must be done there, a longhandled fork or spade is a great stabilizer.

In woodland or shade gardens, the rocks tend to be mossy - utterly beautiful but treacherous underfoot because moss under pressure slips away from its base.

Even worse are wooden rounds used as garden paths or landscape ties used as step edges. These can be slippery while looking perfectly normal. Wire netting nailed on these surfaces makes them much safer.

Sharing gardens with wildlife can be challenging even in city gardens.

Years ago my husband walked into a wasp nest while mowing the lawn.

Not a sneaky hole-in-the ground nest, but a large paper ball nest partly concealed at head height within a young deodar cedar.

Wasp nests high up on trees can often be tolerated, especially since wasps are fairly beneficial in the garden.

But nests in the ground are horribly dangerous and not always easy to eradicate by organic methods.

The one time I got chased by wasps was in summer while digging out an old, composted manure heap. I dug right into their nest before I realized my danger. It's amazing how fast you can run with that kind of encouragement behind you.

The rest of the manure stayed until winter freezes controlled the wasps for me.

Eye injuries while gardening are almost as common as back problems.

Prime offenders are: shrub branches, the sharp ends of stakes, seeds that scatter violently from their pods and showers of earth when reluctant weeds suddenly release their grip. Even organic spray can be painful if it gets into eyes.

Wearing large, curved safety glasses as a routine prevents almost all these accidents. Sunglasses protect better if they have additional side lenses. Goggles guard the eyes from all sides better than anything else, but have to be discarded when they steam up.

The daily injuries are usually trivial: thorns, scratches, blisters, slivers and minor cuts or deeper ones when a gardener prunes a finger. All are usually preventable by wearing gardening gloves of various thicknesses depending on the job.

Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via