Gardeners who suffer from hay fever are well aware of the sneezing, sore eyes and sinus pain that can occur in flower beds, under trees or just mowing the lawn when pollen levels are high.
But there are steps they can take to at least alleviate symptoms, says Jackie Herald, an award-winning garden designer who creates outdoor spaces for people with allergies and other conditions and works with Allergy UK.
“We shouldn’t just design gardens to be beautiful,” she says. “They have to work with the people who are going to benefit.”
She offers the following tips to help gardeners relieve their hay fever symptoms.
UNDERSTAND YOUR TRIGGERS
“It’s really important to understand what triggers your hay fever. In general, if you suffer from hay fever, react to pollen in late winter and spring, this suggests that you are allergic to tree pollen. Come summer, when the grasses bloom, that suggests your hay fever is triggered by grass pollen.” Some 85% of people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, she notes.
WEAR A HAT
“Wear a hat with a brim, which can protect you from pollen falling around your nose.”
CHOOSE YOUR GARDENING TIME CAREFULLY
“Avoid times of day when pollen is likely to rise, such as early in the day as the day heats up, and again in the early evening.”
WATCH THE WEATHER
“Keep an eye on the weather forecast as the pollen level is now regularly released with the forecast. It tends to be associated with warm sunny days.”
AVOID CERTAIN PLANTS
“Avoid plants that have pollen on the surface. Conversely, opt for plants with trumpet or bell-shaped flowers that beneficial insects like bees actually need to find because pollen tends to be hidden inside. indoors, such as foxgloves and bellflowers.
“Generally, for biodiversity and your own health, favor insect-pollinated plants over wind-pollinated ones. A typical wind-pollinated plant to avoid would be silver birch, with its catkins.” People with hay fever should avoid highly fragrant plants that can trigger symptoms, she adds.
“Some lilies and the bottle brush plant may be the ones to avoid. Some plants have male and female flowers on one plant. Other species have separate male and female flowers. Prioritize female plants as they do not generate no pollen. If you plant hollies, plant more females than males, otherwise opt for a self-pollinating hermaphrodite.”
Other plants to place away from the house include privet hedges, wisteria floribunda, juniper and white daisy.
Opt instead for…
Plants such as Escallonia ‘Iveyi’, whitebeam, Clematis armandii, dianthus and rosemary are less likely to bother allergy sufferers, she says. Catnip is low in pollen but beneficial for insects, while snapdragons and eryngium are also low in allergy.
POSITION YOUR PLANTS CAREFULLY
“Don’t put the most allergenic tree in a place where you’re going to have a nice garden bench under it to sit on or near a front door. When you open the door and walk into the house, you can rub against, say, an olive tree that’s allergenic, so your pollen gets inside.
“If you have pollen in your hair, on your clothes, or on your carpet, it stays for centuries and amplifies the impact you felt of being with pollen outdoors.”
Hay fever is worse in urban environments, Herald says, where pollen becomes more allergenic when combined with pollutants and held airborne by hard surfaces. So, in urban spaces, use soft landscaping such as well-mowed lawns and swales (a shady spot, or a sunken or marshy spot) and place your plants away from doorways, walkways, and patios.
Choose flowers pollinated by insects
“Generally, pollen carried by beneficial insects tends to be heavier and stickier than the very light pollen of wind-pollinated plants.”
CONSIDER SOME STERILE PLANTS
Many hybrid plants, with double flowers, are sterile, she points out. “The sterile plants are perfect for allergy sufferers. There are some sterile grasses and, of course, bamboos, as well as some trees and shrubs.
“If you go for a double flower rather than a single, it’s less likely to cause problems, but at the same time making a totally barren garden would be so sad because we have a responsibility to support and encourage our biodiversity. Personally , I would avoid a completely sterile garden but I could include sterile plants.”
AVOID CERTAIN ACTIVITIES
“One job you might want to have someone else do is mow the lawn. But if someone else mows the lawn regularly, it removes the grass blooms, which is helpful for any person with grass-triggered allergies.
“Some people are allergic to various molds. Some of the molds that exist in compost can be a problem, so turning a compost pile or mulching can be an activity to avoid.
“The bottom line is that you need to know what you’re allergic to. The best way to manage what you do, where and when you spend time is to avoid the trigger.”