It’s embarrassing to be in public, start in with a series of uncontrollable sneezes and have someone somewhere nearby counter each sneeze with a “God bless you.” To whoever you are, I send a thank you for the traditional response. Yes, I can be embarrassing to be with in public at certain times of the year. I’ve had hay fever and asthma issues since childhood. I had many tests in middle school with many reactions and many shots that supposedly were to alleviate the suffering but instead caused emotional side effects.

Thirteen years ago, I read a book review of “Allergy-Free Gardening,” by Thomas Ogren. I have no idea why I didn’t buy the book, but over the years I have cut out any article I found written by Ogren and added it to my allergy file folder along with information from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This is a good time of year to share some of the information.

Ogren started researching allergy-free gardening because his wife and many relatives suffered from hay fever and asthma. His gardening interest started at the age of 7, leading him through a career as a landscape instructor, nursery owner and gardening radio show host — and eventually receiving a master’s degree in agricultural science.

According to Ogren it’s all about the sex of the plants, and the male plants are to blame. Before you start writing letters to the editor, let me quickly explain.

The process of pollination develops new plant seeds. Male trees and shrubs have been developed and sold as fruitless or seedless, indicating they don’t create debris under the tree. Instead, they do produce large amounts of allergenic pollens that are released. Shrubs that produce airborne pollen, or any flower that falls into that class, should not be planted under any window that at some point may be opened for comfort. Trees with showy flowers, as with flowers that tend to be pollinated by bees and other pollinating insects, generally have lower allergy causing pollens. Examples would include apples, crab apples, cherries, pears and plums.

Female trees, shrubs and flowers don’t produce as much airborne pollen due to the efficiency of the pollinating insects collecting it. Because of their flower shape, flowers listed for pollinator gardens are excellent choices for allergy-­prone gardeners.

Flowers that have been hybridized so often that the pollen-producing organs (stamens) have begun to look more like petals would also be more pollen-free.

Female junipers are pollen-­free. The good news is they have beautiful blue-green berries; the bad news is these berries will end up on the ground.

If you are a gardener who suffers from seasonal allergies each year, you don’t have to convert your yard to silk flowers and pink flamingos. We just need to be more aware of what we plant.

Landscapes with allergens

Elementary school landscapes are often the most allergenic landscapes. Asthma is now one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. It is crucial that the shade trees in schools be selected to be as pollen-free as possible.

New schools are scheduled to be built in the next few years. Now would be the time to get involved, do some research on trees that would not cause allergies and share that information with the school district.

Ogren created a numeric rating system called the Ogren plant allergy scale for thousands of plants listed alphabetically by scientific name, genus first. They are rated based on how allergenic they are. The scale is from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst plants for allergy-prone people.

Now that I have gone through my file, shared some information with you and sneezed three times, it is time to head to my bookstore and after 13 years, order the book.

I extend a special thanks to our local TV, radio and The Bulletin for keeping us informed as to which pollen species are present. When I had my first itchy eye and sneezing spurt, I learned that the juniper count was up.

— Reporter: