As I cycled through London last week on a stifling summer’s day I found myself coughing more than usual – I knew that I had skipped a few spin classes and maybe over indulged on holiday but this was excessive. On my return home and settled in for an evening watching Love Island I read some research on increasing levels of pollution and how us gardeners can fight the battle. We all know air pollution is more apparent than ever in our cities. It’s made up of dust, soot, heating and exhaust fumes, and a host of other noxious by-products of urban life, all swirling around our streets in the form of tiny, poisonous particulates.
Pollution causes heart and lung disease, cancer, asthma and bronchitis, and new research suggests it may also be responsible for some cases of Alzheimer’s, depression and a decline in brainpower. On July 31, the government will publish its plan to improve air quality — but we can all help in our own garden. Plants are our best defence against air pollution: trees, shrubs, hedges and other greenery trap particulates in their leaves before we breathe them in. But can we really plant our way to a healthier future?
Hedge Barriers – Green defences should be placed closest to the source of pollution, according to Prashant Kumar, professor and chair in air quality and health at the University of Surrey. In urban areas, this means planting hedges or other green barriers as near to roads as possible.
Evergreen – Plants with hairy leaves (such as silver birch, Betula pendula; whitebeam, Sorbus aria; or lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina) or waxy leaves (ivy, Hedera helix; Chinese juniper, Juniperus chinensis; or cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus) are best. And, as air pollution is a year-round problem, it makes sense that your first line of defence — the roadside hedge — should be evergreen.