In sunny areas where foot traffic is light or mower access is difficult, Chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague' (lawn chamomile) can be used to provide an alternative to grass.
Botanical name: Chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague'
Group: Ground cover, herbaceous
Planting time: Spring
Height and spread: 5-10cm (2-4in) height; 45cm (18in) spread
Aspect: Full sun or light, dappled shade
Hardiness: Fully hardy
An open, sunny site is best for a chamomile lawn. Light dappled shade is acceptable, but chamomile grown in more than this amount of shade may only give patchy cover.
Light soils (such as sandy loam) are recommended, but avoid very dry, stony conditions, as a degree of moisture is necessary. Heavy clay is definitely unsuitable, being by turns too wet in winter and baked dry all summer. See our page on soil types for help with assessing your soil type.
To keep a chamomile lawn healthy, watering may be required during prolonged dry spells. On very free-draining soils, in low rainfall areas, or if watering is not an option, then a thyme lawn might be more suitable.
There is no need to mow if you are using the non-flowering dwarf
Dead patches might appear as individual plants age and the centres die out. Very cold or wet winters may also cause plants to struggle, possibly resulting in some dead patches. If chamomile dies out in areas, this gives weeds an opportunity to grow, so ideally replant to maintain a thick carpet of growth.
The straight species, Chamaemelum nobile, or flowering cultivars of it, will need to have the flowers assiduously trimmed off or dead patches will appear. Therefore, the non-flowering cultivar ‘Treneague’ is a much better, lower maintenance option.
Chamaemelum nobile has flowers and longer stems, making it less suitable as a lawn
Creating a chamomile lawn
Thorough weed removal before planting a chamomile lawn helps prevent the feature becoming a weedy mess. Annual weeds can be removed by hoeing or hand-weeding. Waiting a couple of weeks after the first weeding session will allow time for dormant weed seeds brought to the surface by cultivation to germinate, these can then be removed.
Deep-rooted perennial weeds are more challenging but it is definitely worth taking the time to eradicate them before planting. Our page on Weeds: non-chemical control contains advice on various methods of control.
Plants are supplied as small rooted runners or substantial pot plants which can be divided further (see our page on dividing perennials for further advice on this) and grown on in pots before planting out in the lawn area.
When planting out a chamomile lawn, space plants 10-20cm (4-8in) apart, depending on their size. Closer spacing gives more rapid cover, but raises project costs. Given time and no competition from weeds, low-lying stems of chamomile will produce roots and fill in gaps between plants.
Chamomile lawns are best planted in mid to late spring, as the plants will be actively growing and will have plenty of time to establish before winter. Water well until established.
New chamomile lawns should not be walked on for at least 12 weeks, and traffic should be kept to an absolute minimum for the first year. Keep foot traffic light even when plants are established, although occasionally walking on and brushing past plants will allow you to enjoy the fresh scent released from crushed foliage. Place paving slabs or stepping-stones in the lawn if frequent access is required.
C. nobile ‘Treneague’ is a non-flowering, low growing clone only 5-10cm (2-4in) high, ideal for creating a chamomile lawn. As it is a named cultivar, it will not come true from seed. Propagate by division.
C. nobile ‘Flore Pleno’ is low growing, reaching a height of 15cm (6in). It has double flowers, which would need regular deadheading to prevent bare patches.
The species itself (C. nobile) has dark green, finely divided leaves that are aromatic when crushed. Able to reach a height of 30cm (12in), it has small white, daisy-like flowers all summer and can be propagated by division or seed. It is less suitable for making a lawn but the flowers can be used for making tea. Find more information on growing chamomile for culinary uses on our Grow Your Own Chamomile page.
Aphids might feed on chamomile, particularly soft new growth. An infestation of aphids will reduce vigour and can affect the overall health of the plants. Information on controlling aphid populations can be found on our advice page on Aphids.
Growth can look sparse after particularly cold and wet winters. Chamomile lawns tolerate only occasional light pedestrian traffic, and become patchy when frequently walked on. If conditions are less than ideal, there may be gaps and patches in cover where weeds can encroach. Selective lawn weedkillers cannot be used on chamomile lawns.
The initial cost of planting and the time required to keep them weed free generally results in chamomile lawns being limited to small areas of ground.
If ideal growing conditions cannot be provided for chamomile, there are other plants that can be used as alternatives to grass lawns. Brief summaries of other options are listed below.
Suitable for free-draining soil in sunny areas. Scented leaves are reliably evergreen. Flowers are beneficial to pollinating insects. Deadhead to keep plants neat. Thymus serpyllum and cultivars of it, such as 'Snowdrift' and ‘Pink Chintz’, form an evergreen mat reaching about 5cm (2in) in height. T. pseudolanuginosus is also low growing. A mixture of species and cultivars creates an attractive tapestry effect.
Leptinella squalida forms a close carpet of evergreen creeping stems. It can be grown in sun or light shade and prefers a moisture retentive soil. The foliage is soft, fern-like and bronze-green. Yellow buttons of flowers appear in summer. The cultivar 'Platt's Black' has dark purple leaves with green tips.
This vigorous creeping evergreen perennial is a useful grass substitute in sun or partial shade on well-drained soil. It forms a rather thick, 10cm (4in) high carpet and spreads rapidly by means of slender rooting stems. Depending on the species or cultivar, foliage can have tints of green, grey, purple or bronze. White flowers in summer are followed by red burrs. A selection of available species and cultivars can be find on the relevant RHS Find a Plant page.
Trifolium repens (small-leaved white clover) is a creeping perennial that roots at the nodes. Between May and October, on long stalks, it bears rounded heads of creamy white flowers that are a good source of nectar for bees. Tolerant of a wide range of soil types, although not suitable for very acidic or waterlogged soils. White clover is drought tolerant and root nodules produce nitrogen, keeping it green even in hot, dry summers. It performs best in full sun. Clover can be introduced to an established grass lawn by over-sowing in spring, using a dwarf agricultural cultivar or strain, such as 'Kent Wild White'.
Ophiopogon japonicus 'Minor'
Referred to as mondo grass, although not an actual grass, Ophiopogon japonicus 'Minor' is an evergreen perennial reaching about 10cm in height. It will slowly form dense colonies and once established requires very little maintenance. Suitable for sun or partial shade.
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