by David Salman
David Salman, Chief Horticulturist at High Country Gardens has spent over 26 years in pursuit of better plants for eco-friendly landscapes. He is a recognized expert in the field of waterwise gardening and xeriscaping and a sought-after speaker on these subjects throughout the United States. Text and photos are his.
The genus Thymus (Thyme) is a wonderful group of herbal plants for both culinary and gardening use. Native to the Old World of Europe and the Mediterranean, this herb has had a close association with mankind since the times of the ancient Egyptians and the Romans. The various species are planted for use as medicinal plants, as culinary plants and as ornamental plants of the finest order.
The creeping Thyme are a great group of ornamental groundcovers enjoyed for their wonderfully textural mat-like stems and foliage and the showy flowers that bloom in colors of white, pink, rose and rose-red. The blooms rest right on top of the flat branches creating a blanket of color in full bloom. The key to a great Thyme patch is to provide the plants with a full sun location in well drained, preferably “lean” (low nutrient and humus content) or sandy soils.
Ideally, Thyme like warm to hot days and cool nights as many of the species grow in the foothill and mountains of their native lands. Prolonged muggy heat and hot nights is not to their liking so they aren’t generally suitable for the Deep South and Gulf Coast. Thyme doesn’t want to be grown too dry so irrigation is needed in hot weather and occasional supplemental water during the winter if conditions are very dry.
I have always had best luck growing Thyme in between flagstone. This a western landscaping rock that looks like slabs of irregular brown slate but is of sandstone origin. Back East, the flagstone equivalent are slate pavers. Thyme likes to grow up over the top of the rock’s hot, hard surface with its roots below the rock which acts as mulch, keeping the roots moist and cool; Hence, its preference as a crack filler for flagstone or slate patios and walkways.
Thyme also does very well when planted into a thick layer of gravel mulch. Like the flats stones, Thyme also likes to grow over the top of the gravel. In moister Eastern climates the gravel keeps the stems dry and clean from splashing dirt and prevents rotting during wet winter and early spring weather.
Creeping Thyme varieties
Elfin Creeping Thyme – a tight compact grower makes a cushion of colorful flowers.
Woolly Thyme – grows to knit a gray-green carpet along paths and in between stone pavers.
Creeping ‘Coccineus’ – green foliage and a blanket of bright rose-pink flowers in early summer.
Thyme is an essential culinary herb. And they are like the creeping Thyme in their cultural needs (see above). As you might guess after thousands of years of growing Thyme, mankind has made many selections of Thymes to cook with.
In the garden, culinary Thyme is most commonly a compact, upright growing herb with small, fine textured foliage. The variegated cultivars are especially colorful. But when growing the variegated ones, watch for green branches that have lost their multi-colored leaves (reverted) and clip them out.
These plants can be used along the edges of patio and along sidewalks where their fragrance can be enjoyed as you brush past them. I love to mix them with other culinary herbs like Salvia (Sage), Lavandula(Lavender) and Rosmarinus (Rosemary). Not only is this combination of Thyme and other herbs beautiful and aromatic, they are fantastic nectar and pollen sources for bees. Herbal honey anyone?
Cooking Thyme varieties