Low-Allergen Garden Design
How do you create a garden packed with flowers, trees and shrubs when the garden must also be designed to be low-allergen?
Bramley Apple Garden Design discovered that with careful plant selection and consideration to both hard and soft landscaping, it is possible to design a beautiful garden that can be enjoyed all year round, and reduce the amount of airborne pollen which triggers hay fever and asthma.
Pollen is transferred from male to female parts of the flower usually by wind or insects. Airborne pollen is particularly fine and is carried freely in the breeze. The pollen that’s picked up and deposited by insects is generally stickier and heavier and less likely to irritate. As a general rule wind-pollinated plants should be avoided and opt instead for flowers where insects have to search for nectar such as trumpet shaped blooms or double rather than single flowers.
Key Design Solutions
With a small budget, lawn is usually a cost-effective surface choice and the green of turf sets off the hard landscaping and planting. In a low-allergen garden, a good substitute for a traditional lawn is artificial turf being both low-allergen and low maintenance.
Position dining and seating terraces in the centre of the garden to provide good circulation and plant scented flowers to enjoy the fragrance such as lavender and Rosa ‘Margaret Merrill’ to attract the pollinators. Roses are a good low-allergen selection as their petals enclose the pollen, although it’s worth noting that plants with a strong fragrance can affect some people so should be included with caution.
Whilst wind pollinated grasses should be avoided, Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling butterflies’ are a good substitute, creating movement and an ephemeral quality to the planting.
When selecting trees for the garden, trees that produce blossom and attract insects are the ideal solution. Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’, espalier fruit trees, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ or Prunus ‘Amanagowa’ provide spring and autumn colour and won’t outgrow a smaller garden.
Other factors to consider when selecting plants, as advised by Allergy UK, are to avoid male dioecious species, ferns or other species that produce spores. In particular consider alternatives to the ever-popular birch with its striking white bark, which produces the most potent pollen.
There is a useful guide called the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) which is the first plant-allergy ranking system used by the USA department of agriculture. OPALS rates plants 1-10 with 1 lowest in allergy and ‘10’ highest.