Diarmuid Gavin’s older brother has hayfever, but his sibling has plenty tips for sufferers to help them get back out in the garden this year, writes Helen O’Callaghan

Of the two brothers, Diarmuid Gavin was the lucky one. No stuffy, runny nose or red itchy eyes for him. Fate reserved the hallmark symptoms of hayfever for his brother Declan, older than Diarmuid by three years.

“Growing up, Declan suffered very badly. At the first sign of good weather, we’d be out playing football on the green. His face would swell up, his nose would start streaming, and he’d have to spend the rest of the week indoors,” says Diarmuid.

Ireland’s most well-known gardener ponders how things could have been so different for him. “If I had hayfever, I couldn’t function as a gardener.”

His sibling’s experience — and his own when he goes to Chelsea Flower Show every year — means he can empathise with the 20% of Irish people who suffer from hayfever, an allergic response caused by pollen. At Chelsea during the first two weeks of May, the designers are building their gardens with tears streaming down their faces. It’s the one time hayfever, also called seasonal rhinitis, hits the celebrity gardener.

“It’s because of the London plane trees that are all around in the grounds of the Royal Hospital. They’re grown for their shape, bark, and beautiful leaf, and they’re flowering at that stage in May. Once the pollen blows up in the wind, everybody knows about it. It’s an irritant, quite extraordinary. Everybody in the garden suffers. I’m never affected by hayfever, but I am then.”

Gavin is currently fronting the Summer Ease with Cetriz hayfever-relief campaign, for which he has created informational videos and a low-pollen plant guide suitable for Irish gardens. The aim is to encourage hayfever sufferers back into the garden this summer.

What you’ve got to watch out for, he says, is how plants produce pollen. “The very showy, scented flowers produce airborne pollen. They shoot it out and this very fine pollen is carried by the wind to other plants to complete propagation.”

On the to-be-avoided list are lilies, roses, and anything in the daisy family. “I was in Helen Dillon’s fabulous garden this morning. There were amazing tulips but they’re a nightmare for hay-fever sufferers,” says Gavin.

He recommends going for insect-pollinated trees and shrubs, the ones bees and butterflies like: Foxglove, busy lizzie, fuchsia, hardy geraniums, columbine, peony roses, poppies, phlox, iris, crocuses, and azaleas. These beautiful, old-fashioned plants are on-trend because we’re into colour at the moment.

“For a while, people liked tropical and subtropical plants but in the age of austerity we turned to the old-fashioned plants,” says Gavin.

Hayfever gives you permission to get others to do your dirty work, he says. “Enlist someone else to remove the thistles, nettles, and other pollen-heavy weeds like ragweed.”

Putting the run on hayfever means you have to shun the male, he warns. “Avoid any male trees and shrubs such as Fraxinus Excelsior (common ash), Acer (maple), and Ilex (holly) — they produce large amounts of pollen.”

Grass (including ornamental grasses) is a key enemy. “Consider replacing your grass lawn with paving or gravel. Or plant ferns and camomile lawn as a grass substitute.” And if you’re going to mow the lawn, don’t do it on a windy day.

Gavin suggests growing your own food by planting low-pollen lettuce (a natural antihistamine), blueberry bushes, and apple trees in your garden. “Hedges can harbour dust, pollens, and mould spores. Consider replacing them with a fence or wall. To brighten up your wall or fence, plant the Clematis Jackmanii — a beautiful free-flowering, deciduous climber, it blooms with showy flowers from early to late summer.”

Boots pharmacist Paula Reilly says hayfever is a debilitating condition (other symptoms are congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure) that can sap people’s concentration at school and work. But, she says, there’s lots we can do to manage the scourge: Monitor the pollen forecasts and do your gardening in the evening or morning on cool, cloudy days.

“Don’t touch your eyes or nose during gardening to avoid the transfer of any mould or pollens. Rub a small amount of petroleum gel inside your lower nostrils to help prevent pollen from entering your nasal passages,” she says.

Reilly recommends wearing 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. Bathe or shower and change your clothes after being outside. The longer you are in contact with pollen, the more reaction you will have.”

Go to www.facebook.com/CetrizIreland  to watch a series of videos featuring Diarmuid Gavin on how to garden with hayfever, how to garden in an urban space, and how to grow your own food.


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