The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


laburnumMy grandfather was born in the 1870’s. His father was a diplomat in Buenos Aeries. One of seven sons, he was brought up in an age when terrifying stories were used to teach children important facts.

This is the story he told my mum as a young girl:

“One day we were invited to a tennis party. It was a very good day, with many families and young children enjoying themselves. Back then, nobody worried about the children. They were always safe in our houses.

We were watching a long and riveting match. The players were so good that we were totally absorbed. Not a single person there could tear themselves away. The match went to five sets and, eventually, we all stood up to go.

We found the little girl lying dead in the grass beneath a beautiful Laburnum tree. She must have eaten the laburnum flowers. They are deadly poisonous, you know.”

When I was a child my mother told me the same story. I imagined the limp and lifeless child being carried away, wrapped in a blazer, along with the tennis rackets, trophies and balls.

I avoided laburnum trees.

In fact the laburnum horror was so deeply imprinted that when I read Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel in my teens, the description of the laburnum tree in her villa courtyard indicated that Rachel was probably up to no good.

Shortly after I moved to the cottage I was pottering in the woodland side of the garden, admiring the bluebells, when something made me look up. I was standing beneath a small laburnum tree. The combination of sulphur yellow flowers and sky blue bells was stunning but I immediately began to fret.

What if Fly, my treasured dog, ate the flowers or seeds (all parts of the tree are deadly poisonous). Then I discovered that I had two trees. One was close enough to an old apple tree to sling a hammock between the two. I forgot about the dangers of laburnum and enjoyed swinging in my cushioned day bed.

A couple of years later three young boys visited from London, discovered the hammock and spent a happy afternoon swinging higher and higher in the sturdy bed. That winter the laburnum tree blew down in the gales. I had no idea that laburnums are shallow rooted.

So enjoy your laburnum. It is a perfect tree to plant near a house as it probably will not muck up your foundations. Just remember to warn children that it’s poisonous. Wash your hands if you touch it and never attach a hammock to its branches.

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  1. Martin Yates

    When our children were little the property had two laburnums in the garden and we never took any special precautions,they (the children) are now 37 and 40 years old. Most things in life are risky,particularly when you go in your car to the garden centre.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Dave

    Drive 3 copper nails into the stump. This will kill the roots in a year.

  3. i have the same problem i have cut down laburnum how do i kill the roots without harming children wildlife and pets live in a community with young not know what too do please help.
    dave and neighbours. many thanks

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Rachel

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I love these trees too but they are deadly and the flowers are so pretty that children are atrracted by them.

  5. Rachel

    Thank you so much for your advice on Laburnums! I have admired these beautiful trees all my life, however only realised how poisonous they are after reading your site! I will be planting some, albeit with careful siting and full instructions to my children whom thankfully are aware that nature can cure and harm!

    Great site, thank you!

  6. Hi there

    I have jusat asked the landlord to remove a laburnum tree overhanging our garden. Bloody thing. Poisonous seeds everywhere. My neighbour is affronted the landlord planted such a nasty tree with his children in the vicinity. They play tag and use its flowers for arrangemnts, but no more, thanks to your advice.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate(uk)

    The Acacia and Laburnum combination sounds amazing! Always enjoy your comments. Inspirational and interesting.

    Hi Jo

    I suppose that this is old fashioned country stuff – if it happens, it happens.

    The dead sheep must be rare otherwise your neighbours would be out with their chain saws.

    I know the daffodil bulbs are poisonous. Discovered Inca chewing a stray one in October. She vomited and survived. My fault – I left them to plant (on a seat).

    Yesterday after the storms had calmed I found a perfect truss of laburnum flowers just by the chicken run. If it had flown through the wire (quite large mesh) the guinea fowl woud probably have eaten it. They eat anything that I put in the run.

    Friend have offered me a lburnum sapling. I think that I’ll put it in the front garden, well away from the precious stock.

    Hi Gillie

    This comment is so pertinent. The garden is brimming with poisonous plants, tress and shrubs.

    I didn’t know that sweet pea seeds are poisonous.

    The rhubarb stalk (not the leaf) is OK to eat raw. My mum used to give us these when we were children with a saucer of sugar. I didn’t really like it but ate the stems to please her.

    Glad to know that your kids have been given the low down on poisonous plants.

  8. gillie

    Much of the garden is poisonous. Laburnum, oleander, raw rhubarb (speak from bitter experience here), yew, jasmine, hemlock (often confused with yarrow), delphinium, sweet pea seeds, helebore … the list goes on.

    When the children were very little I used to worry terribly and hardly dare plant anything. Now they are a bit older (9, 9 and 11) and are used to the garden and the myriad of animals and the poo that the latter produce they have learned to be sensible and that is as much as I can teach them. They have a healthy respect for nature in tooth and claw and nasty poison.

  9. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Here in Wales laburnums are called ‘golden chains’ & the meadows are stunning at this time of year, with tunnels of golden blossom arching over the lanes against the fresh sapphire sky. In local folklore, it’s considered unlucky to burn the wood on the home hearth.

    When I was a child I was warned about laburnum’s poisonous properties for a different reason – it’s fatal to livestock & for my Thelwellesque, plump pony’s sake my parents always made me check with any prospective livery yard as to whether they had laburnum trees on the property – if they did, they were immediately deemed unsuitable & indeed, irresponsible.

    That’s what makes me surprised it’s so prolific in the Welsh countryside – it’s a killer to animals & humans alike; yet animals graze contentedly & presumably without worry to their carers, in fields whose hedgerows consist almost entirely of this deadly beauty. However a neighbour of mine recently lost a sheep who’d eaten only a handful of wilted leaves from a fallen tree: the first time such a calamity has occurred in the neighbourhood in almost thirty years, apparently…..needless to say, we declined the offer of firewood.

  10. Kate(uk)

    I too was told terrifying stories of dead children who ate the seeds of laburnum. I suppose occasionally someone does eat them, but not as often as we were led to believe. A wonderful combination in the early summer is Laburnum and Acacia- yellow and white hanging blossoms, and the acacia has a glorious perfume. A front garden down our street has both- I’m envious!

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