Plants for a Safe Play Space

Children’s playgrounds have made great leaps forward from the days of tyre swings, metal slides and see-saws. Better still, we are seeing a shift away from pre-fabricated plastic/metal equipment, toward organic nature play spaces. A well thought out play space allows kids to grow and develop key skills. Consequently, we can plan and design play spaces with different plants and gardens to nurture children’s development, creativity, and imagination. A simple way to achieve this is by planting trees and shrubs. However, before you plant anything, ensure you use the right plants for a safe play space.

Beneficial Plants

  • Sensory Gardens- Sensory Gardens choose plants with the aim to stimulate the senses of those in the space. Many shrubs and herbs can fill an area with pleasant aromas when brushed against: Lavender, rosemary, thyme and mint are great examples that are easy to grow.
    Additionally, plants can be selected for textural appeal. Many plants have features that make them valuable creative play resources: Bottlebrush trees, fountain grass and paperbark trees have parts with interesting and diverse feels to increase play value for kids. Finally, plenty of plants can be interesting pieces to climb and play on while providing shade to keep areas cool.
  • Veggie Patch- Getting hands on in the garden can be great for kids development. Plenty of jobs in the garden require care and attention; little hands can practice their fine motor skills while scooping dirt, counting seeds and eventually picking tasty crops. Furthermore, kids can learn by getting experience seeing how things grow and the sense of accomplishment when it comes time to harvest and share with others.

Hazardous Plants

Knowing which plants or fungi are poisonous is important information for parents and carers, child care operators, and those who simply enjoy time in the garden or bush. Many common garden plants possess characteristics that are obvious hazards to ourselves. For instance, thorns on roses, cacti and some fruiting plants are well known and easier to avoid. Others, are less obvious or well-known and can have potentially severe outcomes:

  • Lantana– Varying in size from compact shrubs to 2 meters tall, this flowering shrub has clusters of bright flowers that can be red, pink, white or orange in colour. Small clusters of green/black berries will form on Lantana, these have been reported to cause fatalities when consumed. If consumed, symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, laboured breathing, dilated pupils, lethargy and weakness.
  • OleanderApocynaceae family- Either the pink or yellow varieties from 1m-4m tall. All parts of this plant are toxic if eaten, particularly the fruits and seeds. The yellow and pink varieties of Oleander, if consumed in large enough quantities, have both been reported to cause death. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain.
  • Aroid PlantsAraceae Family- Characterised by large, fleshy leaves and central flower spikes. Common members of this family are Lillies, Philodendron and Monstera, which can be found in most family homes or gardens. All parts of plants in this family, if eaten, can cause pain and burning in the mouth, lips, tongue and throat. Consequently, swelling can also result in difficulty breathing, swallowing and talking.
  • Bougainvillea– Luckily, plenty of thornless varieties of bougainvillea exist. However, some varieties may possess long, sharp thorns that can easily puncture bare skin. Check that any bougainvillea in the area are a thornless variety.
  • Citrus Trees – Some citrus trees possess sharp thorns along the branches and stems. These can cause injuries when handling fruit or when contacting the plant. Eureka varieties of lemon tend to be thornless and are a more suitable option for adding fruiting plants to play spaces.

Useful resources for choosing plants:

Natural playspaces fact sheet

Poisonous plants fact sheet

Kidsafe NSW guide to Sensory Gardens

Kidsafe NSW guide to veggie patches

Need some advice about your playground?

Kidsafe Qld are specialists in injury prevention. Our mission is to keep kids out of hospital and prevent injuries at home, on the road and at play. We offer comprehensive playground inspection and consultation services and run regular playground visual inspection training courses. Call Kidsafe Qld 07 3854 1829