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Page last updated at 14:22 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 15:22 UK

Can you make your garden hay fever-proof?

Bee collects pollen

The Magazine answers...

As the warm weather marks the return of hay fever season, a garden at London's Chelsea Flower Show has been designed to keep the irritation caused by itchy noses and eyes to a minimum. So is it possible to make your garden allergy-free?

While millions bask in the warm May sunshine, the curse of hay fever prevents many others from sitting outside and enjoying the heat.

You can take steps to reduce pollen emissions in your garden
These include avoiding wind-pollinated shrubs, flowers and trees
But you cannot eliminate the risk because pollen will get into your garden from elsewhere

So gardens become a haven for some and a hazard for others.

But a display at London's Chelsea Flower Show - an annual horticulture exhibition in the UK - suggests that there are steps people can take to address the problem and reduce the amount of pollen that causes hay fever.

Olivia Kirk, of KKE Architects, has designed a garden that, she says, hay fever sufferers can sit and relax in, without irritation.

It looks like any other modern show garden, with a timber pergola, dark grey walls and foliage plants, while colourful irises, peonies and astrantia catch the eye. But everything has been planned in order to reduce hay fever risks.

If it's wind pollinated, the pollen is designed to be buoyant and it stays in the air a lot longer
Olivia Kirk
Garden designer

So what were her abiding principles in making this a low-allergy garden?

"As a rule of thumb, if the flower is insect-pollinated, you are absolutely fine, apart from a few exceptions.

"If it's wind pollinated, the pollen is designed to be buoyant and it stays in the air a lot longer, but with insect-pollinated flowers, when the insect has done its job, the pollen is heavy and falls to the ground."

So irises and peonies, for instance, are good because they are pollinated by insects. There is less choice for trees, she says, because so many are pollinated by wind, but she chose amelanchier.

'Avoid grasses'

But even insect-pollinated flowers can be a risk if their flowers are open, says Beverley Adams-Groom, a palynologist - a pollen expert - at the National Pollen and Aerobiology Unit at the University of Worcester.

Olivia Kirk's garden at Chelsea
Ms Kirk's garden has a modern look

"Go for those that are insect-pollinated with very enclosed flowers, like lavender, where the bees and other insects have to crawl up inside.

"The parts of the flower that have pollen on them are called anthers. They are on stalks called stamens and they release the pollen.

"Some of them open the anthers up to the air just in case they can get a few grains picked up by the wind."

Another rule is to avoid ornamental grasses because grasses produce the most allergenic type of pollen, says Ms Adams-Groom. And if any flower, tree or shrub has a female variety, then that will be safer because females don't produce the pollen.

Horse chestnut
Sweet chestnut
Source: Palynologist Beverley Adams-Groom

But can all these measures make your garden hay fever-free? Unfortunately not.

"You can't produce a garden that's pollen-free, but you can reduce your very local sources," says Ms Adams-Groom.

"If you live in a suburban area and people are growing allergenic types either side of you, you can't do too much about it.

"It's not something that people can achieve for themselves but it's key that people doing commercial planting consider these aspects."

Many public spaces in the US are imbalanced in favour of the high-allergy male plants, says Tom Ogren, author of Allergy-Free Gardening, which means people are suffering needlessly.

Source: Palynologist Beverley Adams-Groom

"I came to realise that in the name of tidiness, for the cause of low maintenance, male trees and shrubs were being planted by the millions," he writes on his website.

"Since the males produced no seeds, fruits, messy flowers or old seedpods, they were considered far superior to female plants.

"That these same male plants would bombard urban areas with huge amounts of pollen never seems to have been considered. But this is exactly what has happened."

His advice is to avoid daisy-related flowers such as daisies, gerbera, chrysanthemums, asters, dahlias, and sunflowers.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I'm a pollen-fever sufferer myself - honeysuckle and many trees. But the idea of being able to reduce the attacks by what you don't plant in your garden seems a little far-fetched. Pollen travels, especially wind-pollinating trees. Not just a few tens of feet - hundreds of feet. Your best bet for reducing attacks is to keep taking tablets that work, stay in a breeze so long as it is towards trees not from them and wash your hair regularly. Pollen seems to collect in hair. I've had terrible attacks cut short by simply washing the pollen out of my hair. OK, so don't plant the worst offenders - sad, because I love honeysuckle - but don't expect to make much of a difference if you are surrounded by other gardens.
Sandy Fox, Derby, UK

I am a hayfever sufferer. Best way forward is concrete slabs and a pool with a fountain set to a fine spray. The slabs do not give out any pollen at all and the water fountain takes the pollen out of the air. On a hot sunny day the fountain keeps you cool.
John Sanderson, Horsham

Try local honey - apparently "raw" local honey is good for fighting hay fever. By raw, I mean not heated. If possible, find this year's honey and take a tablespoon or so a day. Not sure whether it's a wife's tale or not, but someone used to come each year to our home and ask to buy some of this year's batch of honey, and they swore by it.
Ned, Finedon, Northamptonshire

Depending on the size of your garden, several tons of gravel should do it. But as it's unlikely that your neighbours would be similarly disposed, pollen-proofing would be a complete waste of time.
Brianofthecam, Cambridge, UK

This is a great idea, but surely it depends which pollens you are allergic to. My worst reactions are to lavender, which you list as a "good" plant.
Nicky, Reading

A nice idea, but it's no help when the farmer down the road decides to plant several rape fields. The smell alone is enough to knock you over.
Mary, Aylesbury, UK

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