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Gardening can be an enjoyable
hobby or occupation for anybody but people with asthma and hay
fever need to be aware that gardens can also be a source of
allergens and triggers.
Pollens, mould, spores, dust and
strong scents can all cause problems for some people. For those
who love gardening, it can be extremely frustrating to have your
symptoms triggered by some or all of the above.
It is impossible to remove such
triggers from your garden completely.
However, there is a lot that you
can do to make sure you come into contact with as few of them as
How do I know what triggers
my hay fever or asthma?
Researchers have identified many
different types of pollen spores which can trigger allergic
reactions. Some people's symptoms will be triggered by just one
or two of them. Others will be affected by more.
Allergies vary from one person
to another, and different people might be affected by different
plants, so it is best not to buy too many of one plant until you
have determined what is 'safe' for you.
What sort of plants, shrubs
and trees should I try to avoid?
The most important rule for the
Low Allergen Garden is to avoid all wind-pollinated plants. The
pollen from these plants tends to be small and light, travels on
the wind and is easily inhaled, thus causing problems for people
sensitive to pollens. However where female cultivars are
available in wind-pollinated trees and shrubs, these are
appropriate to use.
Wind-pollinated plants include
many trees, all grasses and some wild flowers.
Choose insect-pollinated plants
because the pollen in these plants tends to be sticky and heavy
and does not easily become airborne thus posing less of a
problem to people with allergies. Most flowers with large petals
are insect-pollinated, but it is important to remember not to
smell these plants as wind pollen can be deposited on the petals
of any flower.
Avoid heavily scented flowers
which may occasionally trigger attacks in people with asthma, in
view of their irritant effects. These include: carnations;
jasmine; wisteria; freesias and hyacinths.
Most herbs are insect-pollinated
so that many are acceptable. If herbs are to be dried however,
it is best done outdoors.
There is another group of plants
which can cause a problem and should be avoided This is the
daisy family which includes chrysanthemums, michaelmas daisies
May I use shrubs and trees?
Shrubs are insect-pollinated and
are also easy to maintain. Some varieties are heavily-scented,
though, so it is probably best to choose one which is
lightly-scented and even then it is best to plant such shrubs
away from the house. Avoid climbing plants around bedroom
windows as pollens and dust can collect on the leaves and blow
into rooms when there is a breeze.
Many of our common trees are
wind-pollinated, so it is best to avoid ash, birch, elder,
hazel, horse chesnut, oak, plane, sycamore, willow and yew. All
these trees produce masses of pollen during the early summer and
can cause problems. Blossom trees are usually insect-pollinated,
but choose one which is lightly-scented.
Most of the plants associated
with pools are not likely to cause allergic reactions. Arum
lily, however, is an exception and may trigger symptoms. The
water itself should not cause a problem if it runs smoothly (e.g.
as a waterfall) but fountains may cause pollen and dust to
What else should I do in my
low allergen garden?
If possible replace the lawn with
attractive paving or synthetic grass matting. Lawns harbour all
kinds of pollen, dust and moulds which become airborne when
disturbed, particularly when mown. If grass cannot be avoided it
is best to use a cylinder mower for cutting the lawn. Let an
allergy-free member of the family do the mowing. It is important
to close all the windows of the house prior to mowing and keep
them closed for a few hours afterwards.
– Hedges are a problem as pollens, dust and moulds collect in
the branches and when the wind blows or the hedge is cut, clouds
of allergens are released into the surrounding air. Attractive
painted fencing or trellis can be used as an alternative. A
brick or stone wall may also be appropriate, if more expensive.
A Water Garden
– If building a water feature into the garden make sure it is
safe for small children and do not use a fountain as falling
water can create air currents which cause pollens and dust to
rise and become airborne. However, a smooth running waterfall
should not cause additional movement in the air. Pool plants,
except for the arum lily, do not usually cause allergies.
– These can create an attractive feature in any garden and are
used extensively in the low allergen gardens. Do not bring pots
into the house during the winter as moulds in the soil will
release their spores in the warmth of the house.
– It is important to remember that when weeding the nose and
mouth are near to the plants and ground, which is why it is
important to have plants which do not cause any allergic
reaction. Plant low-allergen ground-cover plants such as vinca,
ajuga, lamium and hostas as they suppress the weeds. In
addition, cover bare earth areas with a gravel mulch which can
also suppress weeds.
– Moulds build up in compost and rotting vegetation so that all
waste vegetation should be placed in plastic bags and removed
from the garden. Do not use any form of bought compost as these
can also harbour mould.
Is there a good time to
The pollen season starts in
February/March with the tree pollens. These give way to grass
pollen from late May to mid-August. Wild flowers such as
Plantain tend to release their pollens from June to late
September. Moulds (fungi) lie dormant during the winter and come
alive in the spring, particularly in July and August, and remain
active until well into October or until the first frost.
It is possible to check the
grass pollen count daily. To see how high the pollen count is on
a particular day look at the weather forecast in a daily
newspaper, on Ceefax or Teletext or listen to the weather
forecast on local radio or TV news.
On fine, sunny, summer mornings
pollen grains rise up in the convection currents high into the
clouds. However as the temperature reduces later in the day the
pollens begin to fall and can cause a problem for people with
asthma and hay fever. So bear in mind that at ground level,
pollen counts may be highest in the evening rather than in the
hotter part of the day. Prior to summer thunderstorms, it is
best to stay in the house with the windows closed as atmospheric
changes may cause pollens to break down into really tiny
particles which are airborne and can very easily be inhaled into
the airway and cause an asthma attack.
Alternatively, consider a low
maintenance garden with paving, shrubs and gravel mulch. The
majority of work on this type of garden can be done in March,
before the pollen season begins.
Always wear a hat when gardening
to protect the hair from pollens and brush the hair after
Using spectacles or sunglasses
while gardening can help to reduce pollen contact with the eyes.
If you have a skin allergy, be
sure to keep arms, legs and hands well covered.
Do not wear gardening clothes in
the house as garden allergens cling to clothes.
Consult your doctor if you think
you need to increase medication when gardening. There are
non-sedative treatments for the relief of hayfever.
Picked flowers should be shaken
well to rid them of allergens before bringing them into the
Some suggestions for plants
Trees: Prunus "Shirofugen"
Shrubs: Aucuba japonica,
Phormium "Bronze Baby", Hebe "Mrs Winder", Prunus x Cistena,
Viburnum lusitanica, Viburnum sargentii, Buxus Cryptomeria
japonica, "Elegans", Prunus lusitanica "Variegata"
Climbers: Clematis, Vitis
Herbaceous Plants: Acanthus,
Alchemilla mollis, Aquilegia, Astilbe Aruncus, Brunnera,
Campanula, Dicentra, Delphinium, Geum Perennial geranium,
Hemerocallis, Hosta, Iris, Polemonium, Pulmonaria, Rodgersia
Salvia, Saxifraga, Sisyrinchium, Tiarella, Tradescantia,
Trollium, Veronica, Viola
Eschscholzia, Impatiens, Mimulus, Nigella
National Asthma Campaign
- Choose insect-pollinated,
rather than wind-pollinated, plants.
- Avoid heavily scented plants.
- Avoid harbours for pollen,
mould and dust – these include lawns and hedges.
- Be sure to consult your
doctor about suitable medication.
- Try to visit one of the two
National Asthma Campaign low allergen gardens which are open
to the public.
- Further advice can be
obtained from the National Asthma Campaign Hayfever booklet.
- Before gardening, check the
daily pollen count in your newspaper, on Ceefax or Teletext or
by listening to local radio or TV weather forecasts.