A Child’s Low Allergen Teepee Garden

How often does a child like to hide somewhere in the house? A rainy day can offer a safe haven for a game of indoor hide and seek. Oh, how children love to build forts with old sheets to create secret hideaways. When the puddles dry up, and children’s activities move outdoors, why not encourage a garden “hideaway” or “special garden,” especially for children with allergies and asthma.

The “low-allergen teepee” is the best option for many reasons. It doesn’t take too much room in your garden and can be a unique secret space. When creating the teepee, we must be mindful of what types of flowers and vegetables are planted to avoid high allergens. Work out a plan consulting with your child, and with the following in mind:

OBJECTIVES: Create a secret hideaway for children to have their “special” place to read a book, do crafts, chat with friends, listen and relax to the sounds of nature and much more. Encourage a policy of NO phone/texting/or electrical devices.

DESIGN: Try to find a spot with lots of sun. Use untreated, long stakes of bamboo or branches. Depending on the size you want, purchase about 6 – 9 poles. DO NOT use steel posts as they will get too hot and take moisture out of the plants and soil. Place the stakes solidly into the ground, forming a circle. Fasten the top well with a thick twine. Spread the poles outwards to form a teepee shape. Leave one side spacing wider as this will become the entrance. Drape nylon garden netting around the teepee to let the plants grow into the netting.

SELECTION: The important part is to have the annual vines fast growing; the tepee will be covered in a short time. You can use the following recommendation or make your selection.

Common Name (Cultivar)  Botanical/Scientific Name OPALS Ranking
Butterfly pea Clitoria ternatea 2
Morning glory Ipomoea spp 4
Nasturium (climb) Tropaeolum majus 3
Scarlet gilia Ipomopsis spp 3
Sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus 3
Green pole beans Phaseolus vulgaris 4
Scarlet runner bean Phaseolus coccinea 4

DO NOT plant sunflowers because they are closely related to ragweed (Ambrosia spp), a high allergenic pollen producer. There are some low-allergen sunflower plants.

Instead of sunflowers, I recommend growing corn on the sunny side of the teepee. Corn stalks provide good cover and have a relatively short growing season. The recommended varieties are:

Earlivee (11 – 55 days). Short growing sweet corn.
Buttergold (59 days). Tender kernels and short growing season.
Sugar Baby (61 days).  Bi-colour, reddish green husk also short season growth.

Prepare the soil around the teepee or secret garden site with lots of organic matter such as compost or composted manure.

Plant or seed after the last frost has occurred, and when the soil temperature has warmed to around 18°C (65°F). Read the instructions on the seed package for the best time to plant for your geographical area, seed planting depth and spacing, and the desired flowering time.

Welcoming children into the garden to their personal space and sharing the joy of nature should be encouraged. Building such special childhood memories will follow a child into adulthood. With hope, it will foster a love of nature by our children, who in turn will be enriched by the miracles of nature and the cycle of plant growth. I can hear the children’s laughter fill the air – can you?

*Allergen ranking is according the OPALS® scale. The Ogren Plant Allergy Scale is ranked between 1 and 10 – “1” representing a female, pollen-free, allergy-friendly plant and “10” representing predominantly male, allergenic, airborne, pollen intensive plant.

One who gardens honours their ancestors.©