What would we do without this versatile perennial herb? Depending on its growing style, shrubby, mounding or creeping, and its chemical make-up, several hundred species of Thyme are used in herb beds, garden borders and as a beautiful and durable ground cover.
The most popular Thymes used for culinary purposes are Common Thyme Thymus vulgaris and French Thyme Thymus vulgaris ‘narrow-leaf French’, both of which grow in an upright, shrubby form anywhere from 8” to 12” high. (photo on left) The leaves of Lemon Thyme Thymus. x citriodorus have a brighter greenish cast than the darker Common or French variety, and there are variegated varieties. Its color and the slightly lemony taste and smell of Lemon Thyme give it double duty in the garden as a good contrast plant and as a popular kitchen herb for flavoring chicken and fish. (photo on right)
A mounding or shorter variety of Thyme gives a nice variation of height in the garden. Growing lower than 6” in height, Moonlight Thyme Thymus Leucotricus displays many pink flowers in the spring. These lower growing Thymes make for a great ground cover. Tabor Thyme Thymus Vulgaris ‘Tabor’, Pinewood Thyme Thymus ‘Pinewood’, and Woolly Thyme Thymus praecox subsp. Arcticus can be used to control erosion on slopes. One can even fashion a classic garden seat composed of a raised earth mound covered with creeping Thyme as they did in Victorian England. Soft, aromatic and blooming with flowers, what could be more romantic? Any variety of Thyme is a friend of bees, so be careful where you sit.
A habit of Thyme is to become woody or sparse in the center after three or four years of growth. (photo above) Pruning plants in late February or early March before new leaves appear can delay this for a while. The pruning will stimulate new growth at the base of the stems and keep the plant shapely and vigorous. For harvesting during the spring and summer, don’t be afraid to clip sprigs 2 to 4” from the ground before noon and just before the plant blooms.
Thyme preserves very well and there are multiple methods of drying or freezing. I’m traditional with hanging small bundles of Thyme to dry in a place with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight. Others prefer to dry this herb in a barely warm oven overnight or for a minute or two between two paper towels in a microwave. Make sure all moisture is gone from leaves before storing.
As if these weren’t enough reason to incorporate several varieties of versatile Thyme into your garden, it is also a good deterrent to pests. Researches have had success with a spray made with Thyme in deterring cabbage worms. You might want to plant a few starts among your brassica and other cabbage-related vegetables. (See note below)
Note: Kowalchik, Claire, ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press, Emmaus Pennsylvania, 1987. P.113