To tempt your toes to walk barefoot, plant a sweet-smelling tactile-tickling chamomile lawn. Chamomile is a reasonably hardy plant – it doesn’t mind being squished – but it can’t take heavy traffic. It won’t tolerate the constant passing of feet or regular football matches, so choose a spot just outside of your main route. Or if establishing your lawn in a regular thoroughfare, lay stepping stones across the length of it.
A sunny spot with free-draining soil is ideal, although chamomile will tolerate light shade. Clay soils will work, so long as you improve the drainage first. Grit, sand or pumice and organic matter should be dug in to a depth of at least 15cm before planting.
Choosing your chamomile
There are two types of chamomile: Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). The former is a hardy evergreen perennial and the best chamomile to use as a ground cover. The latter is an annual that is used to make medicinal teas. Roman chamomile can be used medicinally, but it’s more commonly used in essential oil form.
The two look very similar. Both have daisy-like flowers and feathery foliage; and both have a distinct apple-like taste and aroma when crushed (the word “chamomile” comes from the Greek “kamai-melon”, which means “ground apple”). But the obvious difference is their growth habit. German chamomile grows between 30-50cm high while Roman chamomile rarely gets higher than 15cm. For a fragrant lawn, make sure you plant the perennial Roman chamomile. The absolute best variety for lawns is ‘Treneague’. It’s non-flowering type and grows only 5-10cm high.
Preparing your site
Don’t be tempted to take short cuts. You need to clear the area of grass and weeds first, otherwise you’ll be forever plucking out weeds. Lift the turf with a sharp spade to a depth of about 5cm, then dig over the whole area, pulling out any weeds. Add compost or grit if necessary and work this in. Leave to settle, then, if necessary, spray with Roundup a couple of weeks later to target any emerging weeds, or dig them out, ensuring your remove the roots too.
Sowing and growing
You can buy plants at your local garden centre, but you need a fair number for even a small lawn. To give you an idea, 50 plants will cover 1 square metre when spaced 15cm apart. For a cheaper option, sow seeds (available from www.kingsseeds.co.nz). Sow seed in trays and transplant into small pots to grow on until large enough for planting out. Space plants about 15cm apart. Don’t let the soil dry out. Water well, especially in summer. In the first season, trim your plants lightly to encourage bushing and spreading out. Try not to walk on your lawn for the first 12 weeks while establishing, and keep traffic to a minimum in the first year. Depending on the weather and soil conditions, your lawn (if planted in spring) will start to look like a lawn by the end of autumn.