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Green Acre #328: Much Ah-choo! About Fragrant Flowers


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

TALK ABOUT a garden writer’s nightmare. Looks like I’m allergic to flowers. 

There I was blaming my poor budgies, Coop, Buddy and The Boss. Sneezing and wheezing and downing allergy meds. Waking once, in the middle of the night, gasping, “I can’t breathe,” to my terrified Prince. 

Catching the damn birds was going to be a project. They had to be put somewhere else. 

Now they fly free in their room, the solarium/greenhouse next to my office, a space divided from my desk by a screen door, which amounts to not being divided at all. They spend their days destroying the walls, beady eye rolling back in ecstasy as they peck at the wallboard. Then they have a fight. Then a nap. Then they look for something else to destroy. It’s a very noisy, messy business involving ear-piercing shrieks, flying feathers and a great deal of bird poop. And sneezing, which would be me.

Last week  they laid eggs. Or The Boss did, with the assistance of Buddy. Coop is very much a third wheel or leg or beak in this arrangement.

This was a surprise, since I thought The Boss was a he. Best get my pronouns straight. 

Four eggs in all, they had, left on the floor of a pretty little Victorian wire cage, which is more a toy for them than a home. There’s a bigger white cage where they’re fed—and theoretically roost. I don’t know where they’ve been doing their egg producing, but there they were. Eggs the size of jelly beans, appropriate given the season. I also can’t imagine the birthing—the egg size is the equivalent, I estimate, of a woman giving birth to a 20-pound baby. 

We waited in dread for their offspring, though three is really more than enough. In fact, if you’ve an interest . . . ?

Anyway, there I was blaming the birds, and I come across an article by Ashley Abramson  in the Home section of the Washington Post: Enjoy fresh flowers at home—without sneezing and wheezing. 

Flowers, it seems, have fragrance. Oh my. Tell me about it. At this moment the jasmines—there are several—are thick with white flowers, as are the lime and the Meyer lemon, and the paperwhite narcissus. Hundreds of tiny flowers with a combined scent so powerful the whole house is filled with their essence. Ecstasy!


That fragrance “is made up of small airborne particles released from the flower. These microscopic compounds can cause allergy-adjacent symptoms,* including sneezing, runny nose, congestion, headache, trouble concentrating and exacerbated asthma symptoms.”

This is a ghastly bit of news, particularly because flowers with the most divine fragrances cause the most problems. 

That Stargazer and Casablanca lilies head the list did not overly disturb me. I associate them with funerals, so a certain amount of wheezing and sniveling would be a normal and short-lived—just the duration of the ceremony—response. It might even be a help, if you weren’t overly fond of the deceased but needed to look as though you were. 

But the secondary offenders include jasmine and gardenia, paperwhites and tuberose. And lilac, of which I have just procured a twig, and to which I say, What is life without these? 

The suggestions for dealing with symptoms include not placing them in unventilated rooms. Swell thought that. Otherwise, invest in Benadryl, Flonase, Rhinocort and the like.  

Or stick with non-irritating blossoms such as tulips, orchids, daffodils and (thankfully) hydrangeas.

Happily, it looks like a short spring into summer. Although the last frost date for the Washington DC area is April 21, the plants are going outside now. Sink or swim, my beauties. I’ll breathe to that. 

*10 points for defining an “allergy-adjacent symptom.” 

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” will no doubt continue to sneeze her way through garden life, damn the consequences.


One thought on “Green Acre #328: Much Ah-choo! About Fragrant Flowers

  1. Maggie Hall says:

    Such bad news for sniffling flower lovers. But the most interesting line this week is that the budgies of undetermined sex (well, one of them) is laying eggs. A tweeting, twittering menage à trois. More please!

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