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Landscaping clears air

TULARE - Amber Wilkinson didn't know she would be planting low-allergy trees, shrubs and flowers when she showed up for work, but the project at the new Heritage School campus was one she could readily endorse.

"I think it's really beneficial," said Wilkinson, who will attend California State University, Sacramento, in the fall. "Kids will breathe better and the parents won't have to worry as much."

Wilkinson, who said her younger brother has asthma "really bad," and other young people employed for the summer by the Tulare City School District joined district administrators, Community Services and Employment Training students and volunteers June 23 in doing $10,000 worth of landscaping at the new campus at 895 W. Gail Ave.

The event was sponsored by the Tulare County Asthma Coalition, the school district and the Urban Tree Foundation. A grant secured by the coalition is paying for the landscaping.

Heritage is one of the first schools in the county to have low-allergy landscaping, according to coalition officials.

Among the plantings are eastern and western redbud and tulip trees, Indian hawthorn shrubs, emerald carpet manzanita ground covering and mirror plants. The grass will be ‘Princess 77’, a (pollen-free) hybrid of Bermuda grass.

Thomas Leo Ogren's book "Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping" by Ten Speed Press was used as a guide in making selections, said the coalition's Christine Foster.

Kathleen Bolduc, current head of the coalition, and other members were
on hand to provide information.

School district board president Melissa Janes, a nurse and director of education at Tulare District Hospital, said she is supportive of "anything we can do to reduce asthma in our children."

Stephanie Moen, the hospital's director of respiratory services and a former president of the asthma coalition, wrote the application that resulted in a $450,000, three-year grant for asthma-related projects such as the Heritage landscaping effort.

In addition to reducing outdoor asthma triggers, the coalition is also introducing schools to the Environmental Protection Agency's Tools for Schools program to improve indoor air quality, Moen said, which includes taking steps to prevent mold formation, planting trees and shrubs away from ventilation systems and other measures.

The coalition also hopes to address the need for a greater variety of low-allergy trees which are also drought tolerant, provide good shade and have a good root system, she said.

"The trees that we need don't exist," Moen said. "We're going to have to ask [growers] to start propagating trees that have all these wonderful qualities."

A survey found 10.5 percent of Tulare County students have asthma. The national average of 8 percent, Moen said.

But coalition officials believe the county's percentage is even higher, because one of their surveys pegged the childhood asthma rate at about 14 percent, she said.

Heritage School will re-open at the new campus in August and the existing campus next door will become Los Tules Middle School for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
This article first appeared in the Visalia Times-Delta on June 30, 2003.

*Note: Tom Ogren was the horticulture consultant on this project and he picked all the plant materials that were used. The end result is a healthy elementary school, healthy children, and a school landscaped beautifully and entirely done, lawns to trees, with low or no-pollen plants.

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