Herb lawns and GROUNDCOVERS
Plant aromatic herbs along your garden’s main routes, or between pavers, or grow a herb lawn to sink your bare feet into during summer.
If you have a spot in your backyard with bare soil or dispensable lawn, turn it into a fragrant herb lawn. Chamomile, thyme, sweet woodruff ( Galium odoratum), sweet violet ( Viola odorata) and Corsican mint ( Mentha requienii) work well as groundcovers, with chamomile and thyme making excellent lawn substitutes. Both require a sunny spot with free-draining soil, although chamomile will tolerate light shade. Clay soils will work, as long as you improve the drainage first. Pumice, grit or sand and organic matter should be dug in to a depth of at least 15cm before planting your herbs.
Thyme is drought-tolerant and produces masses of purple, pink or white flowers in spring or summer, depending on the variety. The creeping thymes ( Thymus serpyllum and all its varieties) are ideal for lawns. Woolly thyme ( Thymus pseudolanuginosus) also makes a great groundcover, as does Thymus ‘Doone Valley’ and emerald carpet thyme ( Thymus praecox subsp. arcticus), which has white flowers in summer. There are many varieties of thyme that suit lawns; check your local garden centre or online.
For a chamomile lawn, grow Roman chamomile ( Chamaemelum nobile), not German chamomile ( Matricaria recutita), which is the taller growing annual. Roman chamomile is a hardy perennial that forms a low-growing mat of evergreen foliage. Chamaemelum nobile needs to be clipped once or twice a year to keep it tidy, though the variety ‘Treneague’, which grows only 5cm-10cm high, needs no clipping at all. ‘Treneague’ doesn't have flowers, but it is the best chamomile to grow for lawns.
For a mint-flavoured groundcover for part shade, try Corsican mint, a deliciously scented plant with the tiniest leaves. It can be grown as a lawn substitute or between pavers where your feet can brush against it and release its perfume.
Another low maintenance option is golden creeping Jenny ( Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), with its low-growing carpet of leaves that are gold in full sun and green-gold in shade. It produces yellow flowers from late spring into summer. Much like ajuga, the stems root in the ground anywhere they touch, so new plants can be propagated by simply moving plantlets around the garden.
A great groundcover for woodland conditions is sweet woodruff, with its starry white flowers in late spring. It’s particularly useful for shade gardens. Plants are evergreen in mild winters; in colder areas new growth appears in spring. The leaves of this herb were once used as an air freshener, but the vanilla-like fragrance is only apparent after they’ve dried. Sweet woodruff is quick to spread by runners.