Ogren’s ‘Allergy-Fighting Garden’ Can Help You Breathe Easier

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

When I consult with my landscape design clients, I typically ask if any family members have allergies. Over the years, I’ve learned that landscaping with low-allergen plants can improve an allergy sufferer’s quality of life considerably.

For a reference guide, I’ve used Thomas Leo Ogren’s Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary New Guide to Healthy Landscaping. This week, Ten Speed Press released Ogren’s latest book, The Allergy-Fighting Garden, and I like it even better than his earlier book.

In The Allergy-Fighting Garden, Ogren again includes his Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) for ranking various plants. He has updated the rankings since publishing Allergy-Free Gardening in 2000. He also devotes a chapter to eliminating mold spores, a major source of allergic reactions. Then there’s his chapter on allergy-blocking hedges.

Ogren rates plants on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest in allergens, and 10 being highest. Using Ogren’s rankings, what low-allergen plants might you install in your Colorado garden?

For ground covers, you could use prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), veronica, soapwort (Saponaria), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) and cranesbill geraniums, all of which I’ve grown successfully in my Denver garden. They rank from 1 to 3.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

As for taller bulbs and perennials, try iris, allium, tall garden phlox, geum, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), hummingbird mint (Agastache), sea lavender (Limonium), wild indigo (Baptisia australis), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus).

Then of course, there are trees and shrubs to consider. They’re particularly important because the males (who are the pollen producers) generate significantly more allergens than smaller plants do. Good choices include hawthorns (Crataegus), barberry (Berberis), butterfly bushes (Buddleia), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), deciduous viburnums, serviceberries (Amelanchier), and some maples, such as Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Glory’, ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset.’

Avoid most grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass, whose male cultivars carry a 9 rating. But be aware that the female cultivars (if you can find one) carry only a 1 rating. A good choice for turf grass is tall fescue, which Ogren ranks at 3.

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Happy Holidays!

Thank you, readers, for your support over the past 2 1/2 years.

I’m taking a break from my blog for personal reasons. In the meantime, I wish you the best of holidays, and I look forward to rejoining you in 2015.

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Take Steps Now to Protect Your Landscape

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here.     (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Wrapping young, thin-barked trees can help prevent the sun scald shown here. (Photo courtesy of Robert Cox)

Now that we’ve had a couple of snowstorms in Denver, you may think it’s too late to take steps to protect or improve your landscape.  However, that’s not the case.  Here are a few tasks you can perform to enhance your outdoor environment.

* Wrap the trunks of your young, thin-barked trees to ward off sun scald and frost cracking, and leave the wrapping on until late April.  I’m talking, in particular, about young maple trees and fruit trees, including crabapples.  If you’re in doubt as to whether to wrap a particular tree, wrap it anyway.  It won’t hurt.

* Twine jute cord or chalk line from bottom to top around your your upright evergreens to protect their branches from snow breakage.  Think Hicks yews and arbovitae.  Unwrap them in late spring after the risk of heavy snowfalls has passed.

* Prune your trees and shrubs, now that they’re leafless and their shapes are easier to see.  Once the ground is frozen, you won’t compact it as you navigate around your woody plants.

* Let sleeping leaves lie and decompose on your soil over the winter.  Then turn the material into the soil next spring.

* Smother grass in areas where you want to create planting beds.  On the grass, place six layers of newspaper topped with one inch of topsoil, then one inch of compost.  Be sure to seal the edges of the newspaper with rocks, bricks or other material to prevent sunlight from reaching the covered grass.  Over the winter, the grass will die and you’ll wake up to a fertile planting bed in April.

* One more thing. . .do not prune your roses.  Pruning encourages new growth, which will be zapped by the winter cold.  Wait until late April or early May for rose pruning.

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How to Create a Welcoming Landscape

If you don't have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, try planting one in a container.

If you don’t have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, try planting one in a container.

Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over Denver. You may have spotted a few. Each is essentially a box of books where passersby can either borrow a book or drop off a book. They’re such a delightful way to add warmth to a landscape while promoting literacy. You can either build your own little library or buy one online at littlefreelibrary.org.

People often love curling up with books in the winter, so now is an ideal time to install a little library.

There are other ways to warm up your landscape, as well. For example, you can strategically place small lights along a sidewalk or pathway to lead the eye to your home or a focal point.

Then, of course, there’s signage. Who doesn’t love a rustic sign, often sprouting a tongue-in-cheek phrase, inviting guests into the garden?

Other enticing elements you might consider include:

  • Informal stepping-stone paths recessed into the ground.
  • Bold, bright flowers and foliage. This time of year, purple smoketree and tiger eye sumac provide knock-your-socks-off fall color.
  • Vine-covered arbors. Try wisteria, climbing roses or honeysuckle on an arch. Watch out for English ivy and Virginia creeper, though, because they can become invasive.
  • Whimsical gates. Canadian plantsman Doug Green offers an amazing display of garden gates, trellises and other architectural elements on his pinterest page.

As winter approaches and you spend less time tending your plants, explore creative ways to add affection and whimsy to your landscape.

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Who Knew Tin Can Lids Could be Such Fun?

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

The great thing about creating crafts from repurposed items is that you can experiment like crazy at virtually no cost. I mean, if you mess up a few tin can lids and discarded stove drip pans, who cares?

For my garden whimsy workshops, I had collected a plethora of can lids, as well as a few drip pans. So I decided to design a wind chime with them. As I sorted through my treasures, I discovered that the insides of the lids come in different colors. Some are silver; others, gold; and still others, copper.

To begin, I drilled five equidistant holes in the top of a drip pan. Then I strung tin can lids in alternating colors and sizes, interspersed with glass beads and spacers, as shown in the photograph.

The lids reflect light so well in my kitchen that I’ve decided to keep the chime inside. But I’m also curious to see how the chime would look if I left it outside and let it rust. It might look hideous. Then again, it might take on an interesting patina. So I’m going to make a second chime for outdoors just to see how it responds to Mother Nature.

Try making one yourself. It’s easy, and it won’t cost you more than the price of a few beads which, come to think of it, you may already have stashed away.

For more wind chime ideas, check out woohome.com.

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Everyday Plants Explode with Color in Well-designed Border

Hardy hibiscus, Annabelle hydrangea, black-eyed Susan, roses and Russian sage provide a backdrop for low-growing petunias, marigolds and Missouri evening primrose.

Hardy hibiscus, Annabelle hydrangea, black-eyed Susan, roses and Russian sage provide a backdrop for low-growing petunias, marigolds and Missouri evening primrose.

Gardeners sometimes think they need the latest and greatest cultivars to create dramatic borders when, in fact, everyday plants can serve just as well and often perform more predictably.

A case in point is a front border in my neighborhood. As you’ll see from the photos, the plants are simple, but the results are striking.

First, notice the color combinations. Startling shades of red (scarlet, purple and fuchsia), yellow (lemon and gold) and orange mingle with subtle hues of green.

Next, look at the way the low-growing fuchsia petunias punctuate the front of the border by alternating with Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa), marigolds, and red Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber).

In the middle of the border, you’ll find taller plants, such as purple Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), red roses, hardy hibiscus, and yellow yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’ or ‘Coronation Gold.’)

In another section of the border, iris and red garden phlox meld with yarrow and Russian sage behind  the brighter, low-growing plants.

In another section of the border, iris and red garden phlox meld with yarrow and Russian sage behind the brighter, low-growing plants.

Toward the back, observe the red and white tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), spruce, iris, and Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’).  There’s even a tomato in a cage in the back of the bed by the front porch, but you can’t see it in pictures.

Although this border sits in shade during the morning, it tolerates blasts of intense sunlight throughout the afternoon.

You can easily find all of these high-performing plants at a local Colorado garden center.

I would add a word of caution, however–Jupiter’s beard and Russian sage can re-seed aggressively. So if you don’t want to play referee with your plants, you might consider substituting long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’) for Jupiter’s beard, and petite plum dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii nanhoensis ‘Monum’) for Russian sage.

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Two Northwest Denver Gardens Will Make you Smile

The Denver Puppet Theater courtyard provides a playful environment for children and adults alike.

The Denver Puppet Theater courtyard provides a playful environment for children and adults alike.

Each June, I visit two of my favorite whimsical gardens in Denver—The Denver Puppet Theater garden and the Picaso family’s garden. Both attractions are regular stops on The Conflict Center’s annual Enchanted Gardens of Northwest Denver tour.

The colorful sign at the entrance to The Denver Puppet Theater garden immediately draws you into the area’s gleeful atmosphere. Playful plants, fanciful flags, children’s patio furniture and whimsical handmade crafts greet visitors to the puppet theater’s courtyard. This attraction features clever pathways lined with up-ended wine bottles and filled with shoe-shaped stepping stones. There’s also a bunny hutch nestled among shrubs and vines. And you’ll even find a bird house crafted from expired license plates.

Cheeky chickens lie in wait for visitors to Donna and Ron Picaso's garden.

Cheeky chickens lie in wait for visitors to Donna and Ron Picaso’s garden.

At the home of Donna and Ron Picaso, you’ll delight in their collections of comical roosters and mischievous sculptures. You’ll also spot unusual objects and crafts hanging on the outside walls of their home. Donna and her relatives regularly haunt thrift shops and craft stores to collect new treasures for the garden.

If you crave inspiration for adding whimsy to your own garden, The Denver Puppet Theater garden and the Picaso family garden are two oases you won’t want to miss on The Conflict Center’s garden tour.

Donna Picaso and her mischievous pals relax in the back yard of the Picaso home.

Donna Picaso and her mischievous pals relax in the back yard of the Picaso home.

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