Thyme is one of those herbs that everyone should have. It is great in the kitchen, for the medicine cabinet and also smells great when you brush against it in the garden. Plus the bees love the flowers! I always grow my thyme from seed, but that is because I sell pots of it at car boots and craft fairs. It grows really easily and is quite hardy too (I left my young thymes out all winter, because I don’t have a greenhouse, and they all survived albeit needing a bit of TLC). But if you just want a single plant or maybe a couple, it is probably easier to buy them. There are many types out there, as detailed below:
Common Thyme (T. vulgaris) – the one most commonly seen in gardens and used in cooking.
Silver Thyme (T. argenteus) – Growing to a height of one foot, this culinary thyme has beautiful silver edged leaves.
Lemon Thyme (T. x. citriodorus) – More of an upright plant than common thyme. As you may have guessed from the name, it has a strong lemon scent.
Woolly Thyme (T. x. pseudolanuginosus) – The young stems and leaves appear grey and woolly. Suitable for rock gardens. Not used for culinary purposes.
Wild Thyme (T. x. serpyllum)/Creeping Thyme (T. praecox) – I have put these two together as, although they have different Latin names, they seem to be confused in nearly everything I’ve read about them. This plant is native to most of Europe and North Africa, is hardy and strongly scented and tolerates being walked over occasionally.
Caraway Thyme (T. x. herba barona) – good for ground cover and, as its name suggests, tastes like caraway.
These are just a few of the many cultivars that are out there – some culinary and some ornamental. For the culinary types, they go great with pork, lamb, fish and game as well as eggs and Mediterranean vegetables. My favourite way of using it is to sprinkle some on roast potatoes.
How to Grow
Sow the seeds in a pot or tray of seed compost from March onwards and cover with a very thin layer of compost or vermiculite. Keep warm, i.e. indoors on a windowsill or in a greenhouse and keep moist but not too wet. Once the seedlings have their first true leaves, prick them out into individual small pots and leave for another few weeks for them to grow some more foliage. Harden them off before leaving outside full-time. Thyme plants grown this way will take a couple of years to look like the ones you buy in a nursery. Make sure you don’t over-harvest in the first couple of years.
A mature plant can be divided into smaller plants in spring. Dig it up and remove as much of the soil as possible. Gently tear the plant into 3-4 pieces with enough roots and leaves to form an independent plant. Replant where you want the new plants and water in thoroughly.
Take the cutting (with a sharp, clean knife) just below a leaf node (where the leaves join the stem). Remove the lower leaves, dip it in some rooting hormone powder or liquid and then push it into a container of moist seed mix soil, vermiculite or perlite. Keep the cutting in a warm, shaded place and always keep slightly damp, but not too wet.
Take a long stem down to the soil, remove the leaves and peg it into the dirt (I use bent over paperclips). Cover it lightly with more soil and water it lightly. The layered section will start to produce roots from the leave nodes. Once this happened, the new plants with their new roots can be detached from the original plant and moved to a container or another part of the garden.
Taking Care of Thyme
Thyme likes poor soil and dry conditions so don’t water too much or feed. Protect it from severe frosts in winter either by moving the container to a frost free position or by mulching around the roots. Thyme tends to get woody after about three years so it is around this time that you need to think of dividing it or layering or taking cuttings.