I think I first became aware of chamomile when my son, then a baby, was given a china dish with these words printed round the edge.
I still have the now rather chipped, but much loved dish.
It must have made an impression on me because over thirty years later I decided chamomile would be just the thing to put between the steps in the rockery. This was not because I wanted to make tea, it was because I wanted something that would be green all year and would spread freely between the steps.
I did a bit of research and bought the non-flowering cultivar, Camomile Nobile Treneague. I only bought a few plants to see how they got on and I put them in the narrow gaps between the steps, gradually taking cuttings until all the gaps were filled.
One of the things you need to know about chamomile is that is grows better where there is plenty of space and where it is less likely to be trodden on.
That is not necessarily what we want of it! However it does give you the opportunity to take plenty of rooted cuttings to transfer elsewhere.
In Spring 2013 we set about doing some serious work on the garden. It had been neglected for quite a while due to other commitments, but now we had the time to take it in hand. One thing we wanted to do was create a seating area that would get the sun for as much of the day as possible and yet be hidden away in the middle of the flowers. That meant it should go in the middle of the south facing long border. At the same time we put up some trellis to mask the rather ugly wall at the back. What a difference that made.
The semicircular path area was thoroughly weeded and levelled ready for its new covering. We found a wonderful bench with granite supports and a seat that could be lifted off for the winter. I think that is what really sold it to us; that and the fact that it was in a sale!!
By April we were ready to plant the chamomile, though we only had sufficient for half the path to start with. We planted it and watered it and tried very hard not to tread on it.
You are recommended not to walk on chamomile for at least 6 weeks after planting it.
At the same time we chose the other plants that we would see and smell while we were sitting on our new bench. On the wall behind I planted a honeysuckle and a scented white clematis. To the right of the bench I planted a cotinus which would grow quite tall and help us feel more secluded. The bed in front of the bench was supposed to be filled with romantic pink flowers – I am still working on that!
By July the plants were filling out nicely and we were still adding to them from the rockery overflow, but notice the potentilla in front of the bird bath.
The potentilla looked lovely, but it spread all over the chamomile path.
Another thing you need to know about chamomile is that it needs a lot of sun and just won’t grow if it is covered even for a short while.
The bare patch needed replanting with more cuttings and the path was to take until the summer before it recovered.
By June the chamomile was growing thickly with very few bare patches, in fact I had even given it a haircut. There is a fine line, I find, with how much you walk on chamomile: too much and it gets flattened and doesn’t grow, too little and it grows lovely and bushy but with a tendency to get leggy and stalky.
Chamomile is not a trouble free alternative to grass. It is not much use at smothering weeds and so needs constant attention to prevent it being taken over.
It is quite a fussy plant in terms of light and water and if it isn’t happy tends to go rather yellow.
I had hoped to grow it over the remains of a big tree root, hoping it would spread over the area that I couldn’t dig. The chamomile had other ideas!
So what is the verdict – am I glad I planted it?
Absolutely – no question. The smell as you walk over it is wonderful, even though you won’t be able to smell any other more delicately perfumed plants nearby. Also in the summer you can walk over it in bare feet – it is wonderfully soft.
We have had many cups of morning coffee sitting on our new bench enjoying the sunshine. It feels a very special place.
Why not give chamomile a go if you have a suitable small area; I wouldn’t plant a whole lawn myself! You don’t need many plants to get started, in fact I am happy to send you a few next spring if you want to try it.