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    Gardening for Allergy sufferers

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    PDF leaflet on harmful plants (needs Acrobat reader to view)

    This information courtesy of the National Asthma Campaign
    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 possible.

    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 and dahlias.

    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 become airborne.

    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 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.

    Pots 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.

    Weeding 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.

    Compost 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 garden?
    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.

    Practical tips

    Always wear a hat when gardening to protect the hair from pollens and brush the hair after gardening.

    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 house.

    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

    Annuals: Antirrhinum, Eschscholzia, Impatiens, Mimulus, Nigella

    National Asthma Campaign advice

    • 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.

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    Banned Pesticides
    Did you know that it is no longer possible to buy various garden pesticides and creosote products, and that their use is banned.
    For a complete list of these products click here (needs Acrobat Reader to view)

    The ban on the sale of creosote products to the public and use by the public was introduced on 30 June this year. The public must not now use them, and unused products must be disposed of by 30 June 2004.

    A separate European review of the safety of chemicals has resulted in the withdrawal from sale of 81 amateur garden products (mainly lawn treatments) containing one or more of the following active ingredients 2,3,4-TBA, dichlorprop, dikegulac, resmethrin, tar acids and triforine. These products can continue to be used until 31 December 2003 but then must be disposed of by 31 March 2004.

    Remember that all hazardous waste needs to be disposed of safely to avoid possible damage to the environment. Never dispose of garden chemicals or other hazardous materials down drains, lavatories, or near pools, watercourses, ditches or wildlife habitats, or in your general household refuse.

    Any householders who have any such chemicals can dispose of these safely at any  household waste recycling centres in the area. It is important when taking these products to the sites that the site attendants are informed so that they can be stored in the on site chemical vaults. Alternatively they can contact their district or borough council who may provide collection services for household hazardous waste, but there may be a charge for this, and a waiting list for collection.

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