If you go to a nursery
and ask for thyme, you may be given a small, shrub-like plant, a sprawling
six inch plant or even a thick, matted herb growing less than one inch
tall. The leaves may be bright green, gray or variegated white and
green or yellow and green. It may not even taste like thyme--some
members of the thyme genus are flavorless ornamentals while others are
strongly lemon, spicy orange or even coconut or lavender flavored!
In other words, there is a thyme for every taste.
The wide variety
of thymes available make them versatile in the landscape. Upright
forms can be closely pruned to edge garden beds. Creeping types may
be used in rock gardens or let cascade over walls. Tiny Elfin thyme
will make a carpet at the base of a rosemary standard--add a fairy figurine
for a bit of whimsy. A floral pun results when a sundial is placed
in the center of a tapestry of thymes. Let creeping forms fill in
between stepping stones. With thyme, your imagination will run wild.
Thymes are native
to the Mediterranean region and thrive in warm, dry locations. Good
drainage and air circulation are absolute musts for these members of the
Lamiaceae family. If planted in a poorly draining site a thyme will
quickly fall victim to root rot or fungal disease. Raised beds are
ideal for growing thyme in Austin, Texas. With the heavy clay soils
in this area thyme lawns are a near impossibility, although never say never.
In The Herb Garden Kitchen, Lucinda Hutson recommends placing a
large flat rock at the base of newly planted thymes to help protect the
shallow roots from scorching summer sun and unintentional uprooting.
Other authors suggest that a gravel mulch will also be helpful.
Thyme is best
propagated by divisions of sprawling plants or cuttings of the upright
forms. Thyme branches root quickly if bent to contact the soil and
a rock placed over the point of contact. The non-hybrid forms may
also be grown from seed, but germination is slow.
is an easy plant to grow when proper growing conditions are found.
Frequent light prunings will encourage leaf growth. Thymes do have
a tendency to become woody as they age. Many gardeners replace them
every three to four years. In Austin, thyme is evergreen and the
tasty sprigs may be clipped throughout the year, but avoid heavy pruning
in late fall and winter. Use thyme in meat dishes, soups and stews,
breads and salads. A chicken stuffed with lemon thyme and roasted
in the oven is heavenly. The small thyme leaves are easily stripped
from their stems by holding a sprig in one hand and stripping from top
to bottom with the other hand. Tender stems that may remain are fine,
the goal is to remove the woody stems that can be quite unpleasant when
bitten. As with other herbs, three teaspoons of fresh thyme may be
substituted for 1 teaspoon of the dried herb.
nomenclature of thyme is even more confusing than the wide variety of forms.
Thymus vulgaris refers to common thyme. Both French and English
thymes are often identified as T. vulgaris, but others argue that this
name only refers to thymes with a slightly curled leaf and the flat leaved
English thyme is more accurately identified as a hybrid, Thymus 'Broadleaf
English'. (Please e-mail Ann
Marie if you can shed light on this confusion) Thymes readily
crossbreed with one another leading to numerous varieties. As with
all herbs, a good rule-of-thumb is to buy a plant whose appearance, scent
and flavor appeal to you. In gardening, as in art, what you
enjoy is most important! In the language of flowers, thyme symbolizes
happiness and courage.
Thymus 'Fine Leaf French'
This upright growing herb is basic
to cooking. It is a small, shrubby plant whose narrow pointed leaves
have a grayish tint to them. It grows from twelve to eighteen inches
high. The flowers of French thyme range from white to pale purple
and, like all thymes, will attract bees to your garden. It is hardy
to five degrees F.
Thymus 'Orange Balsam'
This delightful plant is an upright
form of thyme growing to twelve inches tall. The small, narrow leaves
are dark green and the dainty blossoms are white. Orange thyme has
a spicy orange flavor that is excellent added to breads and teas.
An interesting creeping form of
thyme staying under four inches tall. The small green leaves are
useful in potpourris. The scent is that of lavender with an added
bit of spice. The flavor is interesting. Lavender colored flowers.
Thymus 'Broad Leaf English'
This hybrid plant grows in an erect
form to eight inches. The shiny, green leaves are about twice the
width of French Thyme and are flat rather than slightly curved. The
flowers are white to pale purple and the flavor is excellent.
Caraway Thyme is a lovely creeping
plant that has striking bright pink flowers in the spring. It only
grows four inches tall and has shiny, narrow, dark green leaves.
It is somewhat sprawling with leaves widely spaced on the stems.
It is hardy to 15 degrees F. Caraway thyme adds flavor to breads
and meat and bean dishes.
Lemon Thyme is a must have plant
for the herb garden. The strongly lemon scented leaves flavor chicken,
fish, tea, breads and vegetables. It will add a new taste to ordinary
roast beef. Lemon thyme comes in many varieties, both upright and
spreading. The leaves are fairly broad and may be bright green or
variegated yellow and green. It is hardy to 5 degrees F.
Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin'
This dainty plant is a low spreading
form of thyme that stays under two inches tall. The tiny, ovoid leaves
form a thick carpet. Upon close examination, the deep green leaves
are slightly hairy. Elfin Thyme has a fresh flavor with a hint of
lemon, but because of its size it is not practical to use in cooking.
It is delightful when grown in a container at the base of sweet bay or
rosemary topiaries. (Ann Marie purchased this plant under the
'Elfin' name, but is uncertain of the accuracy of the identification. Comments
are welcome as to other possible botanical names.)