Now I would agree that the phrase Thyme for a Herb Garden could be read in two ways.
Firstly, it’s the right time – or thyme for a herb garden to be created; designed, built and planted.
Secondly it’s thyme for a herb garden – the focus being on Thyme the herb, rather than a play on words.
Either option would be a delightful blog for me to write, and I would hope for you to read. But I am, for this blog, writing about the herb thyme.
For herb gardens, have a look at and follow the links at the end as I have already written some for you.
Thyme for a Herb Garden – Why?
The herb Thyme has been around for 1000s of years. It was one of the herbs used by the ancient Egyptians in their embalming process. And has been used for various medicinal and culinary purposes through the ages; it is an extremely useful plant.
Thymus, the botanical name for the genus, are all evergreen and perennial. This made and makes it available as a fresh herb during the leaner winter months. Thyme does dry satisfactorily and retain its potency quite well when dried, but fresh leaves are often preferred.
Native to most of Europe, much of Asia, and north west Africa, there are over 250 species and cultivars of thyme. The dark green leaved thymes are hardier for the northern climates; whilst the grey leaved thymes prefer the hot sun.
Medicinally, thyme is used for respiratory complaints, arthritis, headaches and as a general tonic. As always, these things come with the health advice of check for contraindications such as pregnancy before self-medicating, etc. Thymus and the resulting thyme oil have antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal properties.
In cooking it adds flavour to both vegetarian and meat dishes. Thymus vulgaris, also known as common Thyme, has the best flavour. It should be hardy across Britain.
This is the one to choose if you mainly want to grow the herb to use in cooking. Different thymes each adding their own twist to a recipe. It can be used in sweet dishes too, carefully, as it has a pungent aroma, but successfully. Personally, I’ve found the Thymus x citriodorus types best for cakes and biscuits where a delicate touch is required.
Thyme for a Herb Garden – the need for scent
Do you hear the phrase “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows” and immediately have the sweet, musky scent of thyme invading your olfactory senses as if you were lying on that bank of wild thyme?
All herbs resonate in our sense of smell and bring forth memories – good and bad. This particular herb has subtle variations in its appeal. There’s the woodiness of an established thyme shrub. The one that’s really got a bit leggy, so you cut off the older wood and add it to your barbecue, fire pit or open fire. Compare this to the freshness of a small cutting of a favourite thyme, with soft foliage and flexible stems.
Then there are particular cultivars of thyme with an individual tweak to the general redolent aroma. Thymus x citriodorus, with a citrus twist of sharp lemon and Thymus fragrantissima with a fruity orange scent are particular pleasant.
And how does the soft carpet of woolly thyme manage to have a waft of gambolling lambs added to its aroma?
Thymes make good low, fragrant hedges or edging for a garden path, flower border, vegetable plot and even herb garden. As you brush past them, the volatile oils containing the scent are released. Lovely.
Thyme for a Herb Garden – Creeping Thymes
Creeping thyme, wild thyme, is known botanically as the species Thymus serpyllum. As its name suggests it is a ground covering herb. There are also ground cover thyme cultivars, and there has been much confusion over the using of common names which change depending on the geographical location or plant nursery.
For simplicity’s sake (and because not too many of you will be as interested in the nomenclature of Thymus as I am) we will just go with the flow of Thymus serpyllum referring to the ground covering wild thyme found in much of northern Europe. Other thymes may have a creeping habit, and I include those here too.
The usefulness of creeping thymes for growing between pavers and stepping stone paths, under sundials and on rockeries is probably obvious. What needs to be remembered is that the plants won’t tolerate heavy foot traffic. So a thyme lawn to walk across will soon be patchy, whereas a thyme carpet filling in an area which is rarely walked on will thrive.
Creeping thymes can also work well in formal planting schemes, to create divisions in a border or as part of a perennial, carpet bedding type planting design.
The Thymus Coccineus group have dark crimson flowers, a variation from the usual pink. Thyme ‘Russettings’ is one of those with a good red coloured flower.
Some have variegated leaves, or leaves which change colour in the autumn, adding to the seasonal interest.
Thyme for a Herb Garden – Upright Thymes
Not all thymes are creeping thymes of course. Many are upright thymes that make small shrubs. These will grow well in containers as well as in the ground. Indeed, a container herb garden created predominantly of thymes would be a lovely and practical feature on a balcony or in a courtyard garden. Give them free draining soil and a sunny spot, with no harsh winter frosts and they’ll be happy.
Upright thymes also blend well with other planting as part of a mixed herb garden. Whether you keep each herb species separate, or plant according to use is your choice, remember to plant together herbs that like similar soil and growing conditions.
The variegated foliage of many thymes adds to their ornamental merit, both for the herb garden and in a mixed herbaceous border.
Trim your upright thymes after flowering to prevent them from becoming straggly. Encouraging new growth from the base is important too. This is easy to achieve if you’re regularly trimming off sprigs for cooking. If your thymes are more for show, then you will need to lightly prune them. Pruned in spring, you may delay flowering but this doesn’t harm the herb as such.
Thyme for a Herb Garden – Wildlife Friendly Gardening
Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects find thyme flowers full of sweet nectar. The presence of all these beneficial insects in your garden will help with the pollination of your kitchen garden. I would have a low edge of thyme rather than Buxus around the beds of a potager for this reason. Although you need to leave the flowers on if you want to attract the pollinators, so it wouldn’t be as neat as a close clipped hedge.
And if you get the opportunity to taste thyme honey, do so. Different, and I think, delightful.
Growing thyme next to roses and clematis seems to help keep these often disease prone plants healthier.
Cats, dogs and pet rabbits may take the occasional nibble, but generally leave thyme alone. Could be its too pungent for them. Certainly deer, foxes and badgers tend to avoid eating thyme plants; something to consider if these are wildlife pests in your garden. They may still walk on them, of course…
Thyme for a Herb Garden – time to finish
Herbs are a prime contender for inclusion in an ornamental edible garden and thyme is one of the more useful herbs. So we will revisit this herb another time…
If you’d like us to design you a thyme lawn or a thyme garden, do get in touch. But for now, some more Herb – based reading for you to enjoy; links are below, plus check out the ‘Herbs’ category for more!
Other Herb Gardening Blogs
And from Plews Design Portfolio