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Anthemis - Chamomile

Anthemis 008-230x153Anthemis are a large genus of Eurasian herbs grown since ancient Egyptian times for their attractive, fragrant foliage and masses of glowing flowers. “Anthermis” is Greek for ‘chamomile’, the most famous member of this large somewhat medicinal Family of plants. Almost all produce single daisy flowers in cream, gold, yellow or white with bold yellow sometimes pollen-laden centres held atop straight stems and feathery foliage.

A. nobilis, the garden Chamomile, has feathery, cool, aromatic foliage that makes an excellent lawn substitute. Single or double white daisies have a yellow eye. Both foliage and flowers are used as a soothing tea and in a variety of cosmetics, medicinal preparations, rinses, and washes. It is a traditional herb classically used to treat anxiety, relieve stress and enhance sleep.

This is a fast-growing species of which there are several cultivars. Usually they will bloom the same year when sown from seed and can survive as a perennial in the right location for several seasons. The dwarf cultivars make a superb substitute for lawn.

Anthemis Sancta-Johannis (St. John’s Chamomile) makes a hardy perennial groundcover to 30-45cm/12-18in with attractive grey foliage cut into fine lobes and featuring bright golden orange solitary flowers on erect stems with many smaller overlapping petals in a single skirt around a very prominent golden yellow centre. This makes a great flowering groundcover near the coast and is most hardy and effective in rockeries!  It must have strong sunshine and good drainage.

The many Eurasian native hybrids of A. tinctoria, the Yellow Ox-Eye Chamomile or Golden Marguerite, grow to 1m/3ft+ and also thrive by the coast. Golden Yellow flowers are most attractive daisies (2in/5cm) in single to semi-double forms that smother the plants in Spring and Summer. Leaves are attractively lobed or twice-cut with oblong segments. This is perhaps the finest of all the Anthemis species.

Anthemis flowers are excellent for cutting; they can be dried; plus the flowers also make a strong yellow dye. These are hardy, reliable perennials that are really easy and simple to grow in open, sunny, well drained positions in light soils. Therein lies the only difficulty with their culture, these are nearly semi-arid zone plants that require full sunshine and excellent drainage.

For example, A. nobilis is a classic wildflower along the gravel verges of many highways, especially in prairie regions even with very cold winters where they emerge fresh from seed each Spring. They also cover dry wide areas of the Mediterranean but will not long tolerate ‘wet feet’ or shading.

They are great in large tubs or window boxes but these should be located and cared-for so that they are not overcrowded by other foliage nor are repeatedly allowed to dry out and then be flooded but prefer rather constant semi-drier positions. They are best suited to open land where their roots can spread out liberally and their decorative foliage can sprawl to make an attractive living mulch over their spreading crowns.

Seed can be started from Spring onward, which is the best time in cold climates that experience severe freezing. But Anthemis is famously hardy and can sometimes winter-over in cold Zone 2-3 with protection and often in Zone 4 (-34.4/-30F) through Zone 9. And even when the plants succumb to cold, the seed will spring to life with the first warm days.

But in milder climates Early Autumn is an ideal time to start almost all Anthemis species from seed or cuttings, especially A. nobilis (Chamomile). Root and stem cuttings can be started Autumn onward through spring. Seedlings and/or root cuttings started in Autumn will bloom next Spring and Summer.

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