Plant­ing a gar­den that can fight out­door al­ler­gies

Los Angeles Times - - MIND & BODY - By Peg Mo­line

A gar­den can be heaven on earth, a source of sat­is­fac­tion, heal­ing and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, un­less you have plant al­ler­gies. Then it can be sheer hell.

Au­thor and land­scap­ing ex­pert Tom Ogren has a so­lu­tion: His latest book, “The Al­lergy- Fight­ing Gar­den: Stop Al­ler­gies and Asthma With Smart Land­scap­ing,” gives read­ers tips for plant­ing a gar­den that not only is free of the most al­lergy- trig­ger­ing plants but also in­cludes plants that can mit­i­gate and even block al­ler­gens.

For Ogren, the re­search for this and his other books has been nearly a life­long pro­ject. “I was newly mar­ried [ now go­ing on 50 years], and my wife, Yvonne, was suf­fer­ing from al­ler­gies and asthma. Right about that time I was read­ing a book by a psy­chol­o­gist who be­lieved that al­ler­gies and asthma, which do tend to hit women hard­est, were psy­cho­so­matic ill­nesses and that most of these con­di­tions were emo­tional and men­tal. I be­lieved it too and was quite un­sym­pa­thetic.

“Then I started to study the con­nec­tion be­tween plants and al­ler­gies. I was on a land­scap­ing job at a prison. There were lots of aca­cia trees around, and I no­ticed my work­ers sniff ling and sneez­ing a lot. ... I re­al­ized how wrong I’d been and dug in for more re­search.” And you could say it saved his mar­riage. What Ogren found was that the plants pro­duc­ing the most al­lergy- trig­ger­ing pollen were male plants and that more pri­vate and mu­nic­i­pal plant­ings were us­ing just male plants. “I’m not say­ing that fe­male plants don’t pro­duce pollen or that same- sex plants don’t, but my re­search found that the big­gest prob­lem came from plants that were male and pro­duc­ing pollen small enough to be a prob­lem for al­ler­gies. And the world has gone hog- wild about us­ing all male plants,” Ogren says.

The so­lu­tions that Ogren de­scribes in his book are mostly about avoid­ance: us­ing more fe­male, fruit- and- berry- pro­duc­ing plants and cre­at­ing a bal­ance of male plants and the fe­male plants that pro­duce brightly col­ored f low­ers, large, sticky pollen, f low­ers with rich nec­tar and fra­grances — but he also re­com- mends plants that can act as pollen traps. He de­vised a scale, called the Ogren Plant Al­lergy Scale, or OPALS, which ranks plants ac­cord­ing to fac­tors such as the amount, po­tency, weight and size of the pollen pro­duced ( if any), how long the plant is in bloom, whether it at­tracts in­sects with smell and color, and other phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of a plant that de­ter­mine whether its pollen is air­borne. The book lists plants al­pha­bet­i­cally, gives each an OPALS rank­ing and also teaches read­ers how to rec­og­nize these char­ac­ter­is­tics — as well as the sex of plants — on their own.

Many hor­ti­cul­tur­ists and pro­fes­sors swear by Ogren’s work, but his call to bal­ance out the male- to- fe­male ra­tio in the gar­den is not with­out con­tro­versy. “I had a nurs­ery owner ac­cuse me of try­ing to kill the nurs­ery in­dus­try by sug­gest­ing we use fewer male trees. I’m not say­ing that we shouldn’t use male trees, just that we need a bal­ance.”

Ogren also sug­gests peo­ple get in­volved with city plan­ners who are plant­ing trees and bushes.

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