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Thyme to Grow
Thyme has long been a favourite herb, not only with gardeners but also with cooks, who value its strong flavour. When choosing a young plant, rub your hand over it to release the oil so you can choose the scent that suits you best. If ordering from a catalog, pay close attention to the description, as specialist growers will be able to recommend the best varieties for your conditions.
There are far too many species and varieties of thyme to mention here, but lemon thyme is an especially lovely herb, with many uses in the kitchen. The lemon flavor is quite pronounced; a few sprigs baked with fish or strewn across a tray of onions and pieces of pumpkin, along with some drizzled olive oil and whole crushed garlic cloves, will produce a truly delectable dish.
Thymeis often used in a marinade for meat, and a few sprigs infused in olive oil make a lovely cooking oil. It is widely known as one of the main ingredients of “mixed herbs” or, as the French more elegantly describe it, a “bouquet garni.”
Bees love thyme, which gives their honey a distinctive, powerful flavor; thyme-flavored honey is widely produced in Greece. From a scientific point of view, thyme has the advantage of breaking down fatty food and will help digestion.
A hardy, evergreen, low-growing plant, thyme has an undemanding nature. It thrives in poor soil and loves the heat of the sun. I have seen it growing high in the Swiss Alps, where it is collected by locals to make a mild antiseptic tea. It is also mixed with other Alpine herbs to make a much-prized infusion.
To maintain the shape of the plant, trim it after the flowers have faded in late summer. To propagate more plants, take softwood cuttings early in the summer from nonflowering shoots. Alternatively, in late spring detach longer sprigs that have produced small aerial roots along the stem. Pot them up individually in a gritty potting mixture.
Being evergreen, thyme is a versatile herb which can be picked and used throughout the year. A winter picking won’t yield quite the intensity of flavor that the summer sun will impart to the herb, but the flavor will still be worth having, and fresh herbs in the winter are a welcome treat.
Thyme oil has powerful antibacterial properties. It is used widely by bee keepers to kill the destructive varroa mite in hives and has been successful in killing mosquito larvae. Even a small amount of the essential oil is toxic and should be used only under professional direction and never ingested.
Choosing a Container
It is important to grow thyme (a mixture of several varieties looks lovely) in a wide, low container. I found this large rusted steel wok—evidently from a Chinese restaurant—at my local town dump, destined for recycling. It has now been found a use as the perfect planter for a mixture of low-growing thymes. I drilled holes in the base for drainage and planted a number of thymes in a mixture with added sharp sand (to reduce the fertility and further improve drainage).
Make sure to place the planter in full sun. It will serve as an unusual garden decoration, as well as a source of one of the most useful kitchen herbs. For a decorative planter like this, choose thyme plants with different scents, flavors, and growing habits; also think about leaf color and flower tones. There are some lovely variations with silver, variegated, and golden leaves and a range of flower color from pink, purple, and lilac to white.
Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell has made gardenining a passion. She is dedicated to both flowers and vegetables, and grows all her produce organically. Excerpted with permission from “Grow Your Own Herbs in Pots” by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell. CICO Books, www.chapters.indigo.ca. Photo Credit: Copyright CICO Books, 2010.