Moving House


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Dear Sir,

After twenty years of living in a mid-city flat in San Jose, our family are to return to England and its lovely green countryside. We plan to move into a house in Hartfordshire next spring - a job transfer, you see. My wife is a homemaker and loves gardening, so she is quite thrilled at the prospect of moving. The garden has yet to be planned and planted, but I have certain concerns regarding this. You see, in doing so, I am anxious to avoid exacerbating the already trigger-happy hay fever which I suffer from, and which I have involuntarily passed on to our two sons. Bloody genetics and all that, you know. I therefore seek your advice on which low allergy plants to select.

All three of us have recently undergone allergy tests.  A thrilling experience, I assure you, all those needles and jabs. We all thoroughly relished it. However, some good came out of it as we were able to pinpoint precise sources for our common misery. The common denominator is grass pollen: to walk by a lawn being mown has always been enough to send me into paroxysms of sneezing and my elder son, now 19, is possibly more sensitive still. He will start to sneeze before we even realize we are nearing a danger zone.  So I suppose there will be no lawn. Not a problem, really, I've always fancied those South American rock and cactus gardens Though come to think of it, I believe we shall have to replace cacti with something more propitious to English weather. The two boys, American born, are both affected by ragweed pollen in September, whereas I seem to retain my British immunity to the weed.  I believe it does not exist in the Old Country, or at least I had never heard of it.  The younger lad is allergic to many tree pollens, birch, oak and chestnut in particular. His sneeze count closely mirrors the pollen forecasts from April until the first frosts.

I had imagined that it would be enough to steer clear of the plants that we had tested positive to, but on discussion with our allergist, it seems that this is an over-simplification.  When asked how it happened that we all sneeze repeatedly and at length when exposed to privet - just to give one example - when privet was not included in the test, the allergist answered that it was all a question of economy.  As privet pollen is not readily airborne, it is not considered an important allergen in the normal run of things and thus not usually included in tests. But if one has a privet bush under one's bedroom window, and one is allergic to privet, one can expect daily sneezing attacks for as long as the plant is in bloom.  And the same goes for most flowers, some of which can be extremely allergenic, but only when one is at close quarters.  "It is thus most likely", he concluded, "that as you are polysensitized, you and your sons, that there are many more pollens that you will react to on exposure."

Perhaps I would do well to mention an additional reason for my concern. This might sound strange, but I have had a dodgy experience with my current neighbour's wife in San Jose. Please don't get the wrong idea; she's a nice lady - got a husband, three kids and everything! But I have noticed odd behaviour on her part. Let me be more specific - she is watching us.

Her children sometimes poke fun at my own when they are suffering from allergies, which I suppose is something you would expect from children, but their progenitor's behaviour is rather suspect in a very different way. I have noticed her on more than one occasion 'mysteriously' finding things to do outside if my sons or myself happen to have an allergy attack. If she is there, she will always be around, listening in or sometimes even blessing us and supplying tissues with what can only be described as a disconcerting leer. This, I suppose, might be passed off as an excess of sympathy, were it not for the fact that I have also on occasion seen her staring out of her window directly into our house, observing us sneezing. This, I think, denotes a highly unusual level of interest, which I admit I do not in the least comprehend. The straw that broke the camel's back came when, on one occasion, I noticed she was standing in front of her window, as my nose was driven to a frenzy by an upsurge in grass pollen, naked and fully aroused. I shall spare you the excruciating details, but it makes me shudder to even remember this incident. Needless to say, this is but another reason why we are all happy to leave our current residence behind.

Now, I can enjoy a good sneeze as well as the next man, but I've realized over the years that it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. My sons, who highly dislike drawing undue attention onto themselves I am certain, would heartily agree, though our neighbour might not. Should we wish to avoid both allergy attacks and bizarre stalkers, all of us have realized that it might be a good idea to put some thought into the planning of our green surroundings this time. Thus, we are counting on you for advice on which plants to choose.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Thornton-Smith