With all the talk of Wimbledon and grass (a very important subject if you’re a Wimbledon player, official, or fan), I thought I would post about a very different form of lawn.
If you think “The Camomile Lawn” is the title of a book by Mary Wesley, you’d be right. Out of her novels, it’s my second favourite book of hers and I’m delighted to own a signed copy. The novel was turned into a television production described as very close to the original book. This mini-series starred Felicity Kendal, and Paul Eddington of “The Good Life” fame. It also starred Tara Fitzgerald and Claire Bloom, among other recognisable names.
The story is a dramatic backdrop to wartime England as seen through the eyes of five cousins. The expansive camomile lawn sits at the back of a large house owned by one of the character’s aunts. Being the favourite holiday spot for the cousins they gather there in August 1939 at a time when they are still able to enjoy the innocence of youth, even while facing the imminent prospect of war. The novel moves back and forth from this picturesque setting to the devastation of a bombed London where people fight for survival with all the wit and warmth that is common to the human spirit when faced with such dire circumstances. The cousins suffer through loves and losses, while holding dear to the memory of that more innocent time when they played on The Camomile Lawn. Memories of these sometimes-dangerous games (such as “The Terror Run” on the cliff path) are recalled when years later the family gather for a funeral. They also recall their uninhibited behaviour during the war.
One might well wonder why Mary Wesley chose such a setting as a camomile lawn for the book if one has not experienced “walking with fragrance” a phrase coined by one UK supplier. The scent is such that it could well invoke rich memories, memory being a profound theme of the book. Originating from Greek, the name chamomile, or camomile, means “earth-apple” and although it relates more to the way the plant grows low to the ground and the daisy-like flower some varieties can produce, I liken it more to the scent. Camomile is not a grass, nor related to one. It is a ground-covering plant like many rockery plants. I’ve discovered that it grows and spreads by sending out shoots on all sides from which further roots seem to form and travel down into the soil. Larger plants can have some shoots carefully removed and replanted to fill in barer spots.
Like most herbs, camomile has a long history of therapeutic uses, ranging from skin disorders, cancer treatments, and anti-inflammation creams. Most famously, we associate camomile with its calming influence, particularly with regard to herbal tea. Of the many thousands of people who regularly purchase camomile tea, probably few have heard of growing a whole lawn out of this plant and yet it creates the softest, most springy lawn imaginable. Note: I am not telling you to grow a lawn and make your tea out of it. There are many varieties of this plant and some are better for growing purposes, while others more palatable for tea. Like any plant, do not ingest it unless you are certain it is safe to do so.
A camomile lawn is not only pleasurable to walk on because of its bouncy trait but because of the incredible scent that’s released when the plant is trodden on or rained upon. Elizabethan England knew all about camomile and many poets sang its praises. Buckingham Palace boasts a camomile lawn that dates back to George V.
The one practical advantage of the modern variety of camomile grown for lawns is that the plants require no cutting. You can choose between flowering and non-flowering varieties but I always chose Treneague (available from www.camomilelawns.co.uk). No, I don’t have shares in the company, nor am I advertising for them, but if you’re interested in growing a lawn of your own this is my recommendation, although neither I nor the company can guarantee success. I can only say that I’ve never been exactly green-fingered but if there is one plant I simply “must have” in my garden, it is this.
Here is a picture of the camomile lawn in my last garden.
I was devastated that I had to leave it behind. In my new home, we have too much concrete for my liking. I have started by planting some areas with camomile this year, and I began with this:
This photo was taken on the day of planting. They are coming along and I fully expect that by the end of this summer this area will be a full, soft, rich green.
The most important thing to consider when choosing to plant a camomile lawn is the scent. Some liken it to apples. I agree but I find that it also makes me think of “citrus” and “fresh”, literally as in a breath of fresh air. I’ve found that the scent seems to clean the air and that breathing in the fragrance for me has a cooling effect. You’ll find this and other information on the camomile site as mentioned above, including that this could be the answer to hayfever sufferers. Choose the non-flowering variety and there’s no pollen! So, green in dry summers, no cutting, a great scent, you can use it to grow a whole lawn or in feature spots (even as a seat!) or as your main path, because the one thing camomile likes is to be walked on! Walk on it and it grows better. You can intermingle it with other plants, with flagstones, with shingle. The only rule is don’t plant it with any form of grass. The grass is too invasive and will take over. Go on. Walk with fragrance. I can’t scream it’s praises enough…although, I doubt Wimbledon would consider it as an alternative for tennis.
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