Thyme, the edible groundcover

Culinary thyme in bloom

Culinary thyme in bloom

Thyme is an herb used in much of western cuisine.  It’s a short woody perennial that thrives in dry, unproductive spaces, and it widely available as transplants.  Like most herbs, you really only need one for eating, and a transplant costs the same as a pack of seeds, so you might as well save yourself the trouble.

On the downside, thyme spreads out and often gets shaggy and unattractive.  Periodic “hair cuts” of the plant, or what we’d call rejuvenation pruning in a larger shrub, will improve the appearance and the productivity of the parts you want to eat, which are the small leaves.  As for spreading… well, thyme makes an excellent groundcover under shrubs.  Stealth groundcover, if needed.

The variety typically grown for eating is “culinary thyme” but there are many varieties available and all, provided they are Thymus vulgaris, are edible.  In addition to regular culinary thyme, I grow silver-edged thyme (which has a pretty silvery sheen to it) in my front landscaping beds and lemon thyme (which has a citrus-y scent) in the back landscaping.  I also grow Pennsylvania Dutch Tea Thyme, which has larger leaves doesn’t seem to have the habit of dying back and getting as woody as the others do.

I don’t possibly need this much thyme to eat, but thyme is also extremely attractive to beneficial insects when blooming, and coaxing them to my garden pays dividends on my plants needing pollination.

Culinary thyme

Culinary thyme

(By Nicole Castle)


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