Thymes are versatile, indeed - more than fifty varieties are judged useful for culinary or ornamental gardens! Its flavor heightens that of most any food.
The thyme most often used in cooking is know as English thyme (a form of Thymus vulgaris). Like the other thymes, it has woody stems with small oval leaves. It can reach 8 to 12 inches high, though some varieties are smaller. Creeping varieties make attractive aromatic rock garden or edging plants.
Loved for its lemon scent, lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is a delightful plant for both garden and kitchen. One cultivar of lemon thyme with variegated yellow leaves and a prostrate habit is known as 'Doone Valley'. It makes a beautiful ground cover, particularly in winter when it turns strong shades of yellow, red, and green. Caraway thyme (Thymus herbabarona) is a low-growing plant with dark green leaves sporting the fragrance of its namesake herbs. Others thymes sport aromas of lavender, orange, oregano, and rose geranium!
It's best to purchase plants rather than start thyme from seed, since it germinates slowly and unevenly. You can also start plants from cuttings if you have a friend willing to share. Thyme thrives in full sun and light well-drained soil. Space plants 9 inches apart.
Where winters are very cold, mulch the plants after the ground freezes with a light mulch such as pine needles. Trim the plants a bit in the spring and summer to maintain a neat growth habit and prevent the development of too much woody growth.
You can harvest leaves and sprigs all summer. To dry thyme for storage, harvest sprigs in early fall, tie them together, and hang them upside down in a shady, warm, well-ventilated area to dry. Store leaves in a tightly lidded container. You can also remove leaves from the stem, dry them on a tray, or freeze them.
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