Allergies – could your garden save your life?

18th May 2020

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According to Asthma UK there are 5.4 million asthma sufferers in the UK (1.1 million of them children), a number that is rising – up 33% in the last decade. Every ten seconds someone has a potentially life-threatening attack, with an average of three people dying every day from the condition. With the main trigger for an asthma attack being allergens, the pollen in your garden and in the environment around you could literally be deadly.

Even if you don't have asthma you can still suffer in summertime. When spring turns to summer, sneezing and red streaming eyes give away those for whom pollen is a nightmare. But when sprays and tablets can’t keep the hay fever at bay, you might consider the wisdom of Tom Ogren and start planting some trees and bushes instead… so long as they are of the right variety.

Tom Ogren has been championing the concept of the ‘allergy free garden’ for more than 30 years, a concept that has been ignored for most of that time, but with allergy rates skyrocketing, more and more people are beginning to ask why and looking seriously at Ogren’s solutions.

Sex Education

All plant life is either male, female, mostly male or mostly female. And with the male of most plant species being the big pollen producers the answer to our allergy woes could be as simple as planting more female (or mostly female) plants, bushes and trees.

Ogren’s theory is that one of the reasons why we have seen a steep rise in allergy sufferers in recent decades is that those in charge of planting trees in cities had to make a decision about whether they wanted tree that dropped lots of seeds (female) all over the pavement for someone to clean up, or trees that don’t (male). They went with pragmatism and, therefore, many of the trees in our streets are male (this may be an oversimplification). When this thinking is escalated to parks and gardens in towns and cities it exaggerates the problem. Nature has a certain balance – male bushes and trees give off pollen and females of the species absorb it. Disturb that natural balance and what you’re left with is lots of pollen with nowhere to go – an environment in which even the mildest of allergy sufferers will suffer.

Allergy free gardens are the solution

While Ogren is an advocate of change on a nationwide basis to close the gender gap between male and female trees in our cities, he also has some wisdom for homeowners – how we can all start with our own back gardens.

If you have lots of male flowers, plants, bushes and trees in your garden you may suffer more from allergies or asthma, but you can counter that by creating a gender balance. This can be achieved by:

  1. You can remove male bushes and trees. If they’re big pollen producers then you could simply remove the source. Though that’s not always practical or desirable.
  2. You could keep on top of your mowing. Grass can be male or female (or mostly one or the other) too, but no matter which yours is, if you keep on top of the mowing you can prevent it from flowering and minimise any pollen creation.
  3. You can add more female bushes and trees to your garden. This will create a balance, with the female plant life trapping the pollen. But remember you need to plant the female of each male variety of plant life you have.
  4. Plant female trees. If you have a particularly pollen-rich male tree you can plant a female tree of the same species right next to it, and between it and your home or your favourite place to sit in the garden, and the female tree will trap much of the pollen the male tree produces. This could even work if the male tree isn’t in your garden, but annoyingly is in a neighbour’s.
  5. Pruning can also limit pollen production. To prune a male tree more often could limit its ability to flower and, therefore, its pollen production, though this is something your local friendly arborist could provide you with specific information about, based on the trees you have in your garden.

The elderly, the infirm and those suffering from asthma are the most likely to be in danger of the harmful effects of pollen, so Ogren’s solutions could well be implemented at care homes, hospital grounds or in gardens.

Having tall hedges of female shrubs on the borders of your garden could even help to keep out pollens from the surrounding environment and protect you from the sniff and itch produced in the wider world.

However, pulling up bushes, chopping down trees or planting them should only be done in consultation with your local friendly arborist – taking expert advice will mean they will be planted in the best place to improve their health and survival prospects, and you can be sure their roots won’t cause any issues.

To book a survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees, or to book our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s), call us on 0208 292 8992.

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