Gardens can reduce noise pollution

decorative recycled fence

A stone-filled wire fence is an artistic solution to recycle local rock while blocking out neighbors’ noise.

You’ve heard the phrase “Your home is your castle”? Well, if your home is surrounded by unwanted noise, you’re certainly not living in luxury. Noise can come from surrounding industries or businesses, inconsiderate neighbors, machinery or construction sounds, proximity to heavy traffic, or anything else. Noise pollution can take a toll on your peace of mind and even your overall health. Your garden can help.

Build sound buffers into the landscape and you can cut down on outside noise as well as creating decorative features in the garden. Walls and barricades can be constructed with living or non-living materials. Smooth finishes reflect sound, bouncing it back whereas textured surfaces absorb sound.

Solid walls can be built with stone, brick, block or other building material. These are likely to be long-lasting and durable. They are also costly to build. But these walls are successful at keeping out wildlife pests and unwanted trespassers. They also help secure children and pets safely inside, performing double duty. Decorate these solid walls with colorful gardens, clothe them with climbing vines or set pots with cascading plants on the top of the wall to drape the surface with dangling stems, leaves and flowers. Or paint the wall with an ornamental mural, hang wall décor or cover the wall surface with interesting textural fabrics. Another option is to face the wall with plant pockets or trays to create a living wall or vertical garden.

Sound blocks with living materials can be created by using stands of trees, large shrubs or a mixture of high-growing, thick growth. The deep texture makes for excellent sound absorption. Not impenetrable, this kind of wall offers a natural, attractive sound buffer.

One more way to counter noise pollution is by adding your own sound effects. Adding music to drown out sounds of your neighbors is likely to only escalate a noise war. Music is only likely to work if you live where there are no close neighbors to upset and the noise is being generated by an impersonal source. White noise is a term used for a general overlay of sound that doesn’t noticeably intrude. The sound of wind through leaves, trickling or running water, or the tinkle of repetitive notes from wind chimes can distract from other noise pollution.

You can also help sound-proof your home to create peace from ambient outdoor noise. New windows and doors will help keep unwanted noise outside. Efficient, double glazed windows will save on energy bills and maintain indoor temperatures better. They will also make your home more attractive and safer.

specimen opuntia

Big specimen cactus plants can form a noise-reducing protective wall or fence that also keeps out intruders.

You don’t have to be a victim of noise pollution. These are just some choices that can make your life more comfortable, peaceful and even help make your home and landscape more beautiful.




Gardening for children

Helianthus annuum

Sunflowers grow quickly and the heads follow the sun as it moves through the sky.

Gardening for Children

How old is old enough for gardening? I’d say as soon as mud pies become interesting. I was fascinated with watching my mother garden even before I could walk. There is something magical about seeing a seed sprout, a flower bloom or watch a worm wiggling on the ground. That fascination can develop into a healthy respect for nature and the connectedness of all life – including the welfare of the planet itself. Sometimes I wish all our leaders in both the public and private sectors would have to take a course in gardening just to wake up to the wisdom Mother Nature has to teach!




a practice edible garden

Practicing planting with real vegetables makes young hands ready for growing edibles from scratch.

For children, gardening is not only is a teacher of some of the greater lessons of life, but it’s just plain fun and will give kids a project to do that will offer exercise and vitamin D from sunshine. It is an active way to get them out of the house and give them a healthy alternative to indoor technology.

Here are some good plants to grow from seed (or purchased already started from your favorite garden center) that will keep the interest of the young. 

Edibles: There’s nothing more fun than growing something you can actually eat!

  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Corn



Flowers: Watching seeds sprout, leaves appear and colorful petals unfurl is a form of magic.

  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtiums
  • Daisies
  • Marigolds
children's garden furniture

Make the children’s garden into a fun place for a picnic with recycled chunks of wood

Make your garden fun for kids. Use colorful vinyl, paint wood brilliant hues or cover things with brightly patterned outdoor fabrics.  Build with small size in mind, and use safe construction supplies. You can make the whole garden into a wonderland adding swings, tree houses and castles built from recycled materials, designed from plans discovered on the internet or bought ready-made.

Decorate the garden with fast-growing flowers and vegetables like those suggested above. Avoid poisonous plants and those armed with thorns or spines. Use recycled rubber chips rather than concrete or wood chips. They are long-lasting, flexible and add bounce to footing without the danger of hard edges or being toxic if swallowed.

Creating a children’s garden can be fun to build; it brings the kid out of us adults. And children will find a healthy way to have fun that will give them an awareness and practical sensibility that will serve them for a lifetime when they play outdoors in their own garden.

Sand garden

A variation of sandbox play can be adapted for seed and stone gardening.


Enjoy the summer garden safely with children and pets

Toller dog

Make sure children and pets can enjoy the summer garden safely.

We are still in the best months of the gardening season and it’s time to make your landscape as useful and comfortable as you can for the hot summer months ahead. If you have young children or pets using your garden now or in the future, now’s the time to make your outdoor space safe for them to enjoy.

Safe gardening with children and pets starts with thoughtful design. If you are building hardscape structures (permanent features), plan ahead. These landscape features are the expensive parts of your garden that you want to construct correctly the first time rather than tearing them out later and re-building. A swimming pool, for example, should be located where it can be easily viewed from both indoors and outdoors if children will be using it. Also make provisions for fencing or covers to avoid anyone – two-legged or four — from accidentally falling in.  Construct stairways so they are solid and won’t shift, and make sure the foot fits comfortably on each step. Build paths and walkways without protrusions that can trip up unsuspecting feet. And factor in play areas built with safe materials like sand, lawn or recycled rubber tires.

Plan out seating in areas where young children will be playing so you can be comfortable watching them. Designing in some trees will offer much needed shade for young and old alike. And add some simple, but decorative fencing to keep children from straying from play areas

For planting, avoid poisonous plants and sharp prickly growers. Most garden plants are poisonous only when eaten, so if you have anything toxic growing in your garden, keep these plant(s) fenced off until children grow out of the put-everything-in-the-mouth stage. Young pets and even some older pets that never grow out of the mouthy stage should also be denied access.

Pets often need built-in safety measures more than children as animals are likely to be less supervised and they’re often left outdoors for longer periods of time. Dogs need to run. They need to get exercise. And they need to have space to play.  So design them pathways that move through heavily planted areas and carve a passage that will follow along fences where dogs are likely run back and forth. Although your dogs will occasionally trespass on your gardens, most of the foot traffic will stay to your paths and, if you plant tough enough plants, the gardens will thrive and look great despite the activities of your canine pals. Look for plants that grow with wiry and woody stems and opt for drought-tolerant varieties that can take some occasional abuse.

Female dogs can create brown spots in lawns whereas male dogs naturally like to urinate up against anything that rises vertically. So build in areas of gravel or decomposed granite that will not burn from urine. You can also paint decorative posts and set them near places that need protection so your male dog uses them as pee posts rather than your favorite outdoor furniture or your delicate plants. In times when rain is scarce, creating these non-living provisions for your pets makes it easy to hose down urine areas to avoid bad smells

I prefer that cats are always kept indoors due to the danger of preditors and road acidents. But if you have a safe area outdoors and you want your feline to have access to the outdoors, here are a few tips to make things easier on both cat and garden.

Build areas that will be easy for cats to dig. Cats will use loose soil or sand as a cat box. If you want to build a sand box for your children, either fence it off from your cat or use recycled shredded tires for fill instead of sand. Then you can build a sand box just for your cat’s use.  Flat areas where you don’t want your cat digging can be protected by laying a surface layer of hardware cloth or chicken wire. Wire protection will also help avoid the damage so often done by digging squirrels. Offer your cats branches for sharpening claws and build high smooth-surface walls or fences to encourage them to stay in your property. Plant them some catnip (Nepeta) to help them enjoy your garden space. Catnip and catmint both are loved by cats and grow exceptionally well in our area. They are mildly drought-tolerant and even bloom with decorative purple flower spikes

Make sure pets have a shady spot to relax in and plenty of fresh water. Don’t leave out pet food or water at night, however, or you will be attracting undesirable wildlife  like raccoons, snakes and rodents. In the summer, food and water can bring in armies of ants.

Check over your garden now. Set up your space so it is a fun safe place for children and pets to play. And make sure you build in comfortable seating so you, too, can enjoy your outdoor space. With a little forethought, the summer can be a great time for everyone to enjoy the garden – safely!

Toxic Plants that Can Harm Children and Pets

Azaleas are poisonous plants

Azaleas are poisonous plants

Our gardens create décor for our homes, sources for food, places for entertainment, rest and relaxation, sports and games and playground areas for children and pets. They can add a lot to our property values and the quality of our lives. But most importantly, they must be safe. We need to keep hazardous chemicals properly stored, sharp or dangerous materials out of harm’s way, and areas easy and safe to walk through. Less obvious, though, is the danger that can be posed by the very plants that make our gardens beautiful and useful. Since some plants can be poisonous to children and pets, it is important to be aware of these potentials and use them wisely. Here are some tips about toxic plants to children and pets.


Most plants cause only minor irritations or upsets, but others, especially if swallowed, can be more dangerous. Young children and pets – those young enough to eat whatever is in reach – are usually those most as risk. If you have any poisonous plants in your garden, try fencing them off temporarily and make sure you supervise young ones when they are in the area. Keep young  pets penned when you aren’t around to watch them, too. If you are planting a new area, you may prefer to avoid any toxic plants that can harm children and pets.

This list is short. Most of our decorative plants are not easy to digest, so eating any garden plant that is not intended as an edible is best avoided. But here is a list of some of the more commonly used garden plants that could be a problem.



Aconitum (Monkshood)

Aloe (some are irritants)

Alocasia (Elephant ears)

Alstroemaeria (can cause dermatitis)

Amarylis belladona (Naked Lady)

Anemone (Windflower)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Cestrum nocturnum (Night Jessamine)

Convallaria (Lilly of the Valley)

Duranta (berries)

Euphorbia (white milky sap)

Gelseminm (Carolina Jessamine)

Heliotrope (Cherry Pie plant)

Ligustrum (Privet)

Nerium oleander

Potato (green skin + raw shoots)

Rhododendron and Azalea (leaves)

Rhubarb (leaves)

Ricinus (Castor bean)

Robinia (Locust trees)

Solanum jasminoides (Potato vine)

Schinas (CA pepper tree- dermatitis)

Taxus (Yews)




Amaryllis (bulbs)

Caladium (juice can cause swelling of mucous membranes)

Christmas Poinsettia (Euphorbia)

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia)

Diffenbachia (Dumb Cane)

Ivy (can cause dermatitis)

Olea (unprocessed olives are inedible)

Solanum pseudpseudocapsicum (Christmas Cherry)



These are just a few commonly used plants that can be toxic to man and beast. Beware of all the decorative plants in the Solanum and Euphorbia families both indoors and out. Interestingly enough, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplants are also in the Solanum family and they, of course, are not poisonous at all!


Avoiding sharp or poisonous plants is one solution to keeping children and pets safe, but we need to keep an eye on behaviors of those unfamiliar with the dangers of our environment. Children love to test things orally, cats seek grass or other natural greens, and some canines chew out of curiosity or boredom. Finding healthy substitutes and keeping children and pets occupied with interesting and challenging things to do will keep children, animals and plants alike, safe and happy. Remember that the younger the child, the shorter the attention span. Safe and happy a minute ago could be boredom and dangerous exploration now. It’s hard to be on top of everything, but at least you can be aware of which plants require extra caution in your home and yard and avoid toxic plants that can harm children and pets