Know your enemy

I love plants and spend every working day encouraging other people to appreciate them too but particularly during the summer, for hay fever sufferers, not everything in the garden is rosy. Most of us welcome the prospect of fine sunny weather to get out there communing with nature but being in the garden surrounded by the cause of so much misery is no joke if your eyes are streaming and your pockets stuffed full of paper hankies. Anti histamines are great and Vaseline smeared around your nostrils can trap allergens before they can get up there, but an already red and runny nose given the added allure of a greasy shine isn’t everybody’s idea of an attractive feature so it makes sense to do a bit of detective work and get to know your enemy. Two of the worst offenders are tree pollen early in the summer and grass pollen later on. Like other wind pollinated plants they rely on getting masses of pollen into the air in the hope that it will reach a female flower of the same species, indiscriminate and designed to cover as wide an area as possible, your nose included. Willow, alder and the Acer family are a few of them, from our point of view hazel isn’t usually a problem because it’s done its stuff before we venture out with the better weather but grass get us later in the summer when we’re outdoors much more and it isn’t just a problem when it flowers either. When we cut the lawn it gives off a chemical called Coumarin which can be an allergen to some of us and as the mower cuts it churns up all the dust, pollen grains and fungus spores trapped between the blades of grass. Cutting the hedge releases the same trapped particles too, privet seems to be a particularly bad one and the dreaded x Cuprocyparis leylandii can cause contact dermatitis as well as annoying the neighbours. It isn’t all doom and gloom though, there are many ways to make the garden a much less hostile place. Lawn isn’t compulsory, a mix of paving materials, preferably recycled and low spreading plants like Ajuga, Alchemilla, Geranium, winter heathers, Epimedium and Astrantia look lovely all year and instead of a hedge try a trellis screen for the boundary with climbers like Clematis hybrids, climbing Hydrangea, passion flower and purple leaved grape vine. Some of the prettiest trees don’t produce any pollen at all, like the double flowered Prunus avium ‘Plena’and lots of our favourite blossom and fruit trees in the Prunus and Malus families don’t cause a problem generally because they’re pollinated by bees. Shrubs like Hebe, Spiraea and Escallonia are fine too as are a wide range of fabulous perennials like Anemone x hybrida, Paeonia, Phlox and Veronica which chosen carefully and put together well can give colour all summer long so you can sit outside and enjoy the garden sneeze and tissue free.