The Secret to Growing Happy Thyme

‘Doone Valley,’ a variegated creeping thyme with a lemon scent/flavour is seen here growing in my Dry Bed in and around red semperivum and a Silver Brocade Artemisia (Artemisia stelleriana).

I’ve been growing thyme (Thymus spp.) for about as long as I’ve been gardening and I over that time I have tried every variety you can think of and in a multitude of widely varying growing conditions. From raised beds to hard, clay soil, and from big planter boxes to the tiniest pots, I have put this plant through its paces to see what it will withstand. I have grown it out in the blazing sun and tucked it underneath the shade of rose bushes. I have crammed it into tight spots between rocks, and pampered it with rich, nutritious compost.

I have never had thyme as full, bushy, and glorious as I do in this garden.

The woody stems of Citrus Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), also seen in the first picture above. I took this photo and the one above today. This thyme has a very strong, spicy citrus scent.

Over the years, the creeping/trailing varieties have been generally happy regardless of where I put them, but the bushing types that produce thick, woody stems, often died over the winter if the weather was particularly wet or there was a lot of heaving caused by a seesaw of extremes between freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing. And when they didn’t die, they never quite came back with the vigour that they once had. They languished through the growing season and gave in entirely sometime through the next winter.

The garden in June of this year (2012). Both of the bushing thymes (seen just to the left of the mulch pathway) are in full bloom. They have doubled in size since this picture was taken.

Closeup of the two bushing thymes in bloom: Portuguese Thyme (Thymus carnosus) and Citrus Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus).

But the plants I have been growing here are gorgeous. They are not as big as some of the monstrous thyme bushes I have seen growing in the West Indies, but they are living up to their potential in ways I didn’t think I would ever be able to achieve here. It’s all down to the soil, which is sandy and very free draining. The plants are better able to withstand the winter temperature because the roots are not sitting in excess moisture. For that reason I have planted all of my thyme directly into the ground here (rather than into the raised beds) and have only lightly amended the soil around them with duck manure.


There is lots more about growing and cooking with thyme in my book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “The Secret to Growing Happy Thyme

  1. Gardening in Canada is so interesting! I have dozens of thyme plants about my place out here on the Wet, West Coast & find that they do much better if they are in raised beds! I should start exploring some of these different varieties that you mention & see how well they do out here.

    • That makes sense as the raised bed probably offers better drainage than whatever the in-ground soil is there. In my case, the sandy in-ground soil that i have in this yard is much dryer and more free-draining than the raised beds, which I have amended with a lot of nutrient rich stuff and is loamier.

  2. I think the most important thing about growing Thyme is no matter where you plant you have to have good drainage and full sun. I have a four year old bush and have not had any problems. I live in Georgia and Mother Nature had been good to us down here.

    • In my experience I’ve found that full sun is important for the bush types, but I’m not so sure when it comes to the creepers. I have seen them flourish in partial sun, especially in climates that are very hot. I think they are more amenable to a wider range of conditions than the bushing types.

    • I seriously love thyme too. I love to use it with fresh garlic in a lot of dishes. This article has inspired me to try growing the citrus thyme in my small raised bed. I want to try some bodycare products. Lotion, facial wash or shower gel, toner maybe.

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