Growing Thyme in the Garden

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Likes and dislikes

Thymes need to grow in full sun.  They will not grow satisfactorily if they only have sun for much less than half the day in mid summer.  There are other herbs which will grow in these conditions, for example Satureja are quite happy in dappled semi-shade!  Thymes require well drained soil in the garden with added gravel.  A top dressing of gravel will improve the drainage as they resent winter wetness at ground level.  In my experience winter wet around their necks will kill more thymes than the cold weather.  They should be pruned as soon as possible after flowering.  This will keep them compact, encourage new growth from the centre and prevent them from becoming straggly.  As far as feeding is concerned, a spring dressing with one of the pelleted chicken manures is all they require.

Suitable locations

Thyme can be grown in thyme beds where they will give the impression of a magnificent patchwork quilt of many colours.  It is advisable to plant only the low growing and mat forming thymes together in thyme beds as the larger more vigorous thymes tend to smother them.  The bushy thymes are best planted in thyme beds dedicated to these larger varieties where they can have more space to grow.  Suitability for use is indicated for each thyme listed in Plant Portraits.

Thyme Beds: early evening in June.

Thyme can be grown as a path edging, in spaces within a path so that one steps over each plant when walking along the path, or in spaces within a paved area.  Less vigorous low growing thymes can be grown in large pieces of tufa.  As far as the so-called thyme lawn is concerned, this is definitely not advisable.  Thyme resents being walked on and the plants will die, so please do not try this at home, whatever one may read in books and magazines or see on television!  However if paths or stepping stones are incorporated into the garden design one can then walk through the thyme without damaging it.  Brushing against the plants will release the fragrance from the leaves and this will only have the effect of light pruning.  If one really wants to have a fragrant lawn on which to walk, a camomile lawn is ideal.  Besides smelling fragrant when walked on, it actually likes it, as this helps to keep it flat!  My camomile lawn was featured in Spring in the Garden by Steven Bradley.  Camomile 'Treneague' is a non-flowering variety and is planted as bare-rooted slips and can be obtained from specialist nurseries.  In a paved area in a small garden it can replace two or three paving slabs; not only is it more practical than a grass lawn, it is much nicer.

An example of a thyme lawn in the wild is at Ramparts Field picnic site, Icklingham, Suffolk, where it is growing with roughly 60% short grass.  In a small garden a lawn such as this would look untidy, although it could be acceptable in a wild part of a large garden! 

Central thyme beds with pathway planted with
thymes, leading to the decorative stone circle.
In the background is part of the Long Border.

Central thyme beds with Thymus serpyllum 'Desborough'
and Allium scorodoprasum subsp. jajlae (R).
In the background is the camomile lawn.

Thymus 'Caborn Pink Carpet' growing on a
large piece of tufa.

Updated June 2010

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