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Creating an Allergy-Friendly Garden

Ecxema - Scratchy KidsSpring-time … and the garden is calling. But the great outdoors isn't always a happy place for allergy sufferers. Asthma, hay fever, contact dermatitis, rashes and blisters can all be triggered by the most benevolent looking plants. Happily, landscape architect Janet Luke has tips for creating an allergy-friendly garden everyone can enjoy.

Up to one-fifth of all New Zealanders react to pollen released by wind-pollinated plants.
The worst time of the year is spring – September and October – when tree pollen reaches its peak. This is quickly replaced by grass pollen in November through to January.

Trees and shrubs to avoid are those that have small, pale or insignificant flowers. These sorts of plants use wind to spread pollen and they need to produce a lot of it. As a rule of thumb, showy, bee-pollinated trees and shrubs are a better choice for allergy sufferers.

Interestingly enough, it is the boys that get up our noses! So plant lots of female trees and female shrubs. Not only will these not shed any pollen, they will also trap pollen which has strayed from elsewhere. Think of these female plants as nature's air cleaners. Male plants are often sold in nurseries as 'seedless' or 'fruitless' varieties but they all produce large amounts of allergenic pollen.

Trees to avoid at all costs include wattles, ashes, elms, oaks, maples, pine, privet, willow and the large growing poplar or cottonwood.

On the flower front, choose flowers that are large, scented and brightly coloured. These plants tend to be bee-pollinated – they attract with colour and scent. Their pollen is heavy and sticky so not as irritating to humans.

Lawns are great producers of irritating pollen. Just after dawn, fine pollen rises up to a metre above the lawn, waiting for wind or gardeners to disturb it. Mowing early, before the dew has dried, can help, or if you aren't concerned what the neighbours might think, wear a surgical mask!

A better idea is to do away with lawn altogether and replace it with paving or decking. If you must have a lawn, choose groundcovers such as thyme or Mercury Bay weed.

Be very careful with the use of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. One single heavy exposure can result in hypersensitivity, especially in someone whose antigens are on high alert anyway. Go organic as much as possible, and if pests become a problem, use natural homemade sprays as a first line of defence....

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Issue: Spring 2015