In the Garden:
Woolly thyme doesn't mind foot traffic and holds its own against occasional morning marauders.
Colorful and fragrant, thymes are diminutive perennial herbs suitable for any sunny, dry, well-drained spot. I use them between pavers, along walks, and at the top of rock walls where they cascade down in soft mats and root between the rocks.
More than 150 thymes are commercially available, growing either upright as small, erect shrubs or low as creeping mats. My favorites are the creeping thyme cultivars, which present a wealth of choices for unusual, aromatic ground covers. They are separated into two groups: prostrate, which grow less than 3 inches high and resemble lush, sun-loving mosses; and mounding, which form undulating green or silver carpets that are more than 3 inches high. I especially enjoy the prostrate varieties planted among paving stones in paths and terraces, and spilling into my perennial borders. Tread on them and their distinctive fragrance adds a sensual dimension to a garden stroll.
Thymes prefer dry conditions and average garden soil. Too much water and heavy soil cause thymes to rot. When planting, I add sand or gravel to the soil to improve the drainage.
Thymes blend well with other plants. Perennials such as bee balm, sage, pincushion flower, artemisia, yarrow, and iris make interesting companions. In one part of my garden, creeping thyme flows around some dwarf iris and 'Moonshine' yarrow, creating a composition of wildly different foliage textures.
A Few Favorites
Durability, growth habit, color, and fragrance are important considerations when selecting thymes. Most thymes prefer full sun, although a few golden or variegated cultivars, along with woolly thyme, will tolerate partial shade. Watering and fertilizing are rarely necessary once the plants have become established. In fact, dry conditions improve plant vigor, and poor soil increases aromatic oil production, making them more fragrant.
On my flagstone walk, Thymus praecox 'Annie Hall' forms a prostrate mat spreading nearly 15 inches across. Its small, narrow leaves are medium green, covered in June with tiny, bright purple flowers.
Thymus doerfleri 'Bressingham Seedling' is another favorite of mine for its larger, rounded, hairy leaves. It drapes beautifully over rocks, landscape timbers, or inclines.
Thymus 'Doretta Klaber' is one of the finest dwarf thymes. The minute, hairy, green foliage of this plant forms a tight mat that spreads to 12 inches across and is only 1 inch high in bloom. Dark pink flowers appear in spring, and the foliage turns mahogany in winter. It is useful in rock gardens, on slopes, or in containers.
Thymus 'Archer's Gold' has brilliant golden foliage and small pink flowers. The foliage color is most pronounced in cool weather.
A lemony scent and masses of pink flower spikes characterize Thymus 'Pink Ripple'. Its shiny, light-green foliage quickly forms an 18-inch prostrate mat. In my garden, 'Pink Ripple' creeps around alliums and iris, making a soft, scented carpet underfoot.
Thymes are versatile, colorful, and fragrant plants, offering masses of delicate, star-like flowers. You can tuck thyme into a dry wall, stone walkway, or rock garden, or use it as a ground cover or as an edging for a perennial border. These hardy little plants can add swaths of color and fragrance in unexpected places.
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