Grass lawns have the disadvantage of requiring regular mowing, feeding and edging. In sunny areas where foot traffic is light or mower access is difficult, Chamaemelum nobile (chamomile) can be used to provide a lower maintenance alternative to grass.
Botanical name: Chamaemelum nobile
Group: Ground cover, herbaceous
Planting time: Spring
Height and spread: 5-10cm (2.5-4in) height; 45cm (18in) spread
Aspect: Full sun or 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 are recommended (such as sandy loam), 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.
Trim with a mower or shears in late summer but only to remove dead flower heads and the occasional ragged shoot. There is not usually an actual need to mow in the way you might mow grass if you are using a non-flowering dwarf cultivar such as 'Treneague', although flowering cultivars will need to have the flowers assiduously trimmed off or dead patches might result. Grass has meristems (areas of cell division) at the base of the leaf from which growth arises, and thrive and thicken on mowing. Other plants have their growth meristems at the tips of the shoots and mowing will eliminate these and is much less effective at promoting a thick sward, although new shoots may arise lower down the plant.
Creating a chamomile lawn
Thorough weed removal before planting a chamomile lawn helps prevent the feature becoming a weedy mess. Two or three spray applications of weedkiller before planting may be necessary to eradicate persistant weeds such as nettles, docks, brambles and thistles. Annual weeds can be removed by hoeing and light digging or cultivation.
Waiting a couple of weeks after each application of weedkiller makes it apparent where further spraying is needed, and allows dormant weed seeds brought to the surface by cultivation to germinate and be eradicated by subsequent spraying or removal.
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 with purchased plants, space them 10-20cm (4-8in) apart, depending on their size. This equates to 83-100 plants per square metre. Closer spacing gives more rapid cover, but raises project costs.
Species chamomile (not named cultivars) can also be sown from seed and grown on in pots into plants large enough to plant out in the lawn area. See below for advice on doing this.
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.
Chamomile can be increased by division in spring. Species plants (not named cultivars) can be propagated from seed.
Sow seed under cover in early spring (February or early March), providing bottom heat of 19°C (65°F) with a heated propagating mat, and using good quality seed compost with added perlite for drainage. Plant out in the lawn area in late spring (usually May).
C. nobile ‘Treneague’ is a non-flowering, low growing clone only 5-10cm (2.5-4in) high, ideal for creating a chamomile lawn. As it is a named cultivar, it will not come true from seed, making plant purchase necessary.
The species itself (C. nobile) has dark green, finely divided leaves that are aromatic when crushed. Reaching a height of 10cm (4in), it has small white, daisy-like flowers all summer and can be grown from plants or seed. It is less suitable for making a lawn.
Chamomile lawns tolerate only occasional light pedestrian traffic, and become patchy when walked on excessively.
If conditions are less than ideal, there may be gaps and patches in cover where weeds can encroach. Weeding must be done manually or with spot weedkiller treatment. Selective lawn weedkillers cannot be used on chamomile lawns.
Image: © GWI/Francoise Davis. Available in high resolution at www.gardenworldimages.com
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.