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Hay Fever Tips from Diarmuid Gavin

It’s that time of year again. Gardens and foliage start to bloom and we get out with the kids into a modicum of sunlight. But for many of us hay fever is a blight on our enjoyment of the summer.

I caught up with celebrity gardener and all-round gentleman Diarmuid Gavin to find out his tips for a reduced pollen summer. It’s the first of three interviews to beckon eumom readers back to the garden with handy tips for child-friendly gardening!

You must see the misery of hay fever a lot more than most people?

Yes, unfortunately I see the misery of it a lot during the summer months. Whenever you’re at a garden where people are visiting you see people sneezing and their eyes beginning to water. You always feel so sorry for them as it’s the most wonderful thing to wander through and discover a beautiful garden in season. We were in Helen Dillon’s amazing garden this morning and it was quite extraordinary.

It seems such an unfair affliction, just these tiny particles in the air that may be affecting them. I don’t suffer from it myself. My brother unfortunately does, and quite badly when hay fever season arrives. But then again, he wouldn’t know one end of the garden from the other! We have the right jobs.

What tips would you give for gardening when you have a bad bout of hay fever?

Get somebody else to do some of the tougher work. Delegate tasks like weeding - as nettles and thistles have an awful lot of pollen, and it’s airborne pollen that they shoot out. I would advise to plant low-allergy plants; plants that are pollinated by insects and birds, bees, butterflies and moths. There are lists of plants that are wonderful with fantastic colours and they don’t exacerbate the condition.

Fruit and vegetable gardening is another low-pollen venture. Sow cabbage, sprouts, radish, onions and spuds; all of which are propagated by insects. Be careful about the plants you choose. Keep away from some of the trendy plants at the moment, such as ornamental grasses. However, even lawns are very heavy on pollen, because they all produce little tiny grass plants and they all flower and they all produce pollen. They shoot it into the air.

What plants are the worst instigators of hay fever in the average garden? Are some more culpable than others?

Anything that’s very heavily scented. A rose, for instance, which smells and looks wonderful or any of the daisies that are out in flower like marguerites, they’re out now right through the summer. And they’re unfortunately pretty awful harbingers of pollen. Mind you, if the weather’s a bit cooler or there’s been a rain shower you’ll be a bit better off when you head outdoors.

When do you see the most amount of hay fever sufferers? What time of year?

Starting from around now until June and July. There are so many plants blooming at different times. And, I must admit that there is one time of year that I do get affected. If you have a garden at the Chelsea garden show, the grounds of the show are planted with big London Plane Trees and they produce a type of pollen that affects everyone. You get a thing called ‘the chelsea cough’. It’s horrendous and always happens in the second week of May. It is a type of universal irritant and it lets you know how badly people suffer from hay fever!

What are your top tips for creating a low-pollen garden?

Use plants that don’t require a huge amount of maintenance. So plant fruit and vegetables they're great for that, they’ll bring in plenty of bees and butterflies. Some of my top low-pollen flower recommendations are:

  • Sweet pea
  • Petunias
  • Foxgloves
  • Poppies
  • Fuchsias
  • Carnations
  • Tulips
  • Hyacinth
  • Crocuses
  • Iris
  • Clematis

They all produce pollen, every plant does, but they don’t shoot out pollen, they wait for the insects to come along and do their job.

Boots pharmacist, Paula Reilly teamed up with Diarmuid to give her top six tips on how to reduce hay fever:

  1. Monitor - Try to monitor pollen forecasts. Make sure you garden in the evening or in the morning on cool, cloudy days
  2. Contact: Try not to touch your eyes or nose during gardening to avoid the transfer of any mould or pollens
  3. Shield tactics: Rub a small amount of petroleum jelly inside your lower nostrils to help prevent pollen from entering your nasal passages
  4. Shade it: Wear a wide brimmed hat to prevent pollen landing on your hair. Cover up and wear gloves, a long sleeved top, sunglasses and a mask if you’re cutting the grass
  5. Wash it off: Bathe or shower and change your clothes after being outside
  6. Get thee to a chemist: Speak to your pharmacist about treatment options for managing your hay fever symptoms.

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About the Author

Lucy Earley is MD of artisyn.ie, (former editor of Salon Magazine) and is a freelance writer, interviewer and editor. She's a delighted convert to the maternal side following the birth of her daughter, Lara, in August 2014

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