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Allergy Suffering People Can Still Enjoy Gardening

Updated on July 23, 2015
Herbaceous perennial Mallow has a low OPAL value of 2. Flowers can and should be enjoyed. Planting the right ones will reduce toxic allergic reactions.
Herbaceous perennial Mallow has a low OPAL value of 2. Flowers can and should be enjoyed. Planting the right ones will reduce toxic allergic reactions. | Source

Allergies are having a negative impact on those who not only like plants but like to garden. Allergies have become an extremely expensive health concern especially since it can lead to dangerous asthma attacks. Thomas Ogren in his new book The Allergy Fighting Gardener firmly believes we have made this escalating health problem ourselves. He has found that we have disrupted nature by over planting male plants. He has found that natural disasters such as Dutch Elm disease which wiped out vast urban plantings of sexually mixed low impact trees helped shape our use of more toxic tree replacements.

The delicate looking annual cleome has an OPAL value of 3. Beauty exists for those with health problems.
The delicate looking annual cleome has an OPAL value of 3. Beauty exists for those with health problems. | Source

Problems to Solve

To correct these and other problems Tom recommends starting with evaluating your own garden. Because we spend so much time at home we should first make sure our personal space is as healthy as possible. He recommends planting new plants in a way to block pollen drift from far away locations. He recommends replacing highly toxic plants with others that are less challenging to those with allergy problems. Lastly he urges his readers to become involved in local public site planting opportunities.

As long as you can control the spread, some tall growing Bamboo can be used for a whispering pollen break capturing air borne contaminants when placed to work with prevailing wind patterns.
As long as you can control the spread, some tall growing Bamboo can be used for a whispering pollen break capturing air borne contaminants when placed to work with prevailing wind patterns. | Source

Too Many Males

Some time ago we realized that male trees and plants did not make fruit. This meant that they produced less mess that had to be cleaned up. Natural marketing activities quickly capitalized on this observation. They found that only selling male trees was good for business. Because these trees were tidier they HAD to be a better choice.

We as consumers listened to this advice and found it did require less yard work to plant these non fruiting trees. We should have thought about this just a bit more. Unfortunately, it is the male trees that make pollen. Pollen can be moved to the female flowers through wind or insect action. Gravity allows fine pollen to travel long distances before falling to earth. While most of the pollen will stay somewhat locally it can travel quite far.

Hosta "Stained Glass" makes a bold statement and can tolerate some direct light. Even with the fragrant flowers, hostas have some of the lowest OPAL scores of 1.
Hosta "Stained Glass" makes a bold statement and can tolerate some direct light. Even with the fragrant flowers, hostas have some of the lowest OPAL scores of 1. | Source

What We Should Have Planted

We should have chosen the other sex. Female trees make the flowers. If we had chosen to plant females en masse instead of the male we still wouldn’t have any mess because there wouldn’t be any males to fertilize the flowers to make the fruit. And, because the female flowers don’t make pollen our allergic reaction will be lessened.

Placement Helps

Placement of our plants should be considered. Many like the look of a hanging basket. Unfortunately, the pollen produced will fall only to be breathed in while relaxing in a chair under the great looking basket. Those with allergies will want to consider the placement of flowering plants so that gravity or wind will work for their benefit. Lower placements of plants mean less pollen will have an opportunity to travel to our nose much higher off the ground. Where we plant is as important as what we plant.

Wind breaks that capture and reduce air borne pollutants can be beautiful too. Notice how this Rose of Sharon which can grow tall has a similar flower to its herbaceous perennial Mallow to coordinate color in the garden.
Wind breaks that capture and reduce air borne pollutants can be beautiful too. Notice how this Rose of Sharon which can grow tall has a similar flower to its herbaceous perennial Mallow to coordinate color in the garden. | Source

Pollutant Breaks

There are ways to discourage pollen from traveling from trees and other plants further away. This is to use large bushes or small trees as a wind block. Place these where your prevailing wind frequently travels. For example if your wind is frequently from the south west then this position in your yard is the logical choice to plant these fairly tall plants to hinder the movement of pollen from distant locations. They will help prevent pollen and other air borne allergens from penetrating to your personal space.

This lovely Belamcanda Lily only has an OPAL rating of 2. Who wouldn't want this blooming in their garden?
This lovely Belamcanda Lily only has an OPAL rating of 2. Who wouldn't want this blooming in their garden? | Source

Use the Book Resource Section

This simple strategy may mean you will need to remove and replant your outdoor garden. First determine how toxic each plant choice is. Thomas’s vast reference section of plants lists a relative discomfort level for plants with a scale he developed. For the moderately irritating plants a simple repositioning in the garden may be enough to help. Perhaps replanting so that the plant is not in line with the prevailing wind is all that is needed. It is important to remember that some trees have flowers that have both male and female parts. Only some trees are separate sexed. The extensive resource will help you sort these out while making your decisions. Assess the relative level of discomfort using his ingenious scale. Each plant is rated on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction while 10 is quite toxic.

In fact there are many flowers with less toxic fragrance, lower pollen dispersal and less chance for adverse dermatological reactions to sap one can substitute by choosing better with his reference guide. There are a many colorful alternative annuals and perennials that can be chosen so that a beautiful garden can be enjoyed with less physical reaction. Just because the neighbor grows particular flowers that produce allergic reactions doesn’t mean you do too.

Still need another tall pollution break? What about a Hawthorn? These are covered in white flowers in the spring followed by a large number of orange fruit clusters. Hawthorn has an OPAL score of 3.
Still need another tall pollution break? What about a Hawthorn? These are covered in white flowers in the spring followed by a large number of orange fruit clusters. Hawthorn has an OPAL score of 3. | Source

Become Involved

Because you or your loved one suffers from allergies it is important to become active on committees involved in landscape design. Thomas found many schools where only male trees were planted. These public locations turned out to have some of the highest concentrations of air borne pollen in their respective community as well. As a result the number of students affected with allergies was higher. Public parks frequently consider new plantings whether trees, shrubs, annuals or perennials. Become involved. Volunteer to be on selections committees to help choose less toxic plantings for public areas. Encourage the choice of female over male trees. Encourage shrubs that produce more flowers with less pollen. At least encourage the use of equal numbers of male and female versions of the same plant selections. Part of our problem in the past was over planting one sex.

The lovely Glad. This one is perennial in my Mid Western garden. It has an OPAL score of 3.
The lovely Glad. This one is perennial in my Mid Western garden. It has an OPAL score of 3. | Source

Conclusion

The information in The Allergy Fighting Garden is of course quite a bit more specific. Thomas provides information on how plants bloom, the types of bloom and how irritating the pollen or other toxic qualities for thousands of plants is presented. The botany of flowers is described. How and what types of flowers one can find on plants is also described. This will help the knowledgeable gardener make a relatively good estimate of toxicity for those plants one may find for sale that are not listed in the extensive plant reference section.

He highly recommends asking detailed questions of the nurseryman where you buy your new plants. Remember, while not part of the book, that experienced and knowledgeable nurseryman need to be sought out. You may have trouble learning about the sex of a tree from a large box store since the employees are there for sales and not consultation. Seek out local growers with sufficient knowledge. Local garden clubs can be of use as a resource.

This new book by Thomas Ogren is a valuable and important book for any with allergies. Why imprison yourself in your tightly closed up house when you can enjoy the great outdoor advantages like your friends? Learn which plants cause you the most problems so that when you are attending an outdoor social event you can position yourself so that plant impact can be minimized. And, learn to speak out on committees for public land use. This book will become a valuable resource to any with allergy problems. It will make a great gift for friends or family with problems too.

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    • hostaguy profile image
      Author

      frank nyikos 24 months ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Thanks ladyguitarpicker (sorry I have forgotten your real name) there is a lot of good old common truth about this book and topic. Since reading it myself I have noticed an over abundance of male trees lining public streets. I have also noticed an over abundance of shrubs that also tend to be male. These are easy to identify because none of them have any fruit on them after flowering. I only had one nit picky objection to one of his plant entries in the glossary. Otherwise I think this is a book and garden philosophy worth investigating.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 24 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      A very good hub, that I will have to come back to. I have terrible allergy problems. I love being out doors but it gets harder each year. I will have to read the book. Thanks

    • hostaguy profile image
      Author

      frank nyikos 2 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Sorry to hear that George. Dust is hard to avoid especially in this industrialized world. Keep us updated on some of your strategies.

    • profile image

      George Haynes 2 years ago

      As for me, I have a terrible dust allergy, and nothing helps me really... The only thing that works for me is to sit at home having turned on my air purifier (which I got from https://freshairpurifiers.net/ecoquest-vollara-com... ) which cleans air from dust and pollen. I hope, someday I will treat my allergy, I hate it.

    • hostaguy profile image
      Author

      frank nyikos 2 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Thanks Peter Prakke. You're right. This book has sage advice.

    • profile image

      Peter Prakke 2 years ago

      "The Allergy Fighting Garden" book from Thomas Ogren is a 'must have' book. Every asthma sufferers, landscapers and designers should be using this book to 'assist' the asthma sufferers in landscape design. What tree is in your 'schoolyard' ?

    • hostaguy profile image
      Author

      frank nyikos 2 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Thank you Jackie.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very informative and enjoyable read. Up and shared. ^+

    • hostaguy profile image
      Author

      frank nyikos 2 years ago from 8374 E State Rd 45 Unionville IN 47468

      Thanks thumbi7. I can't take the credit. Tom spent 30 years putting together his discussion. I reviewed his book and took out the highlights. The book is very well written.

      Thanks Larry. I was surprised at how allergy free my gardens were after I evaluated myself with the reference list. I grow daylilies which are rated a 6 and I have a bald cypress on the edge of my property that had a rating between 6 and 10. Since I only have the one tree and it is self fertile I think it must be towards the lower end. All in all, most of my flowers and landscape are in good shape for those with allergies.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great tips. Can be difficult to enjoy gardening and deal with allergies.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 2 years ago from India

      Very good ideas

      Many people are allergic to pollen grains. Your hub will benefit them

      Voted up and shared