Time for Thyme
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
As I write this piece in early spring, my pot of thyme is already beginning to sprout new growth.
It’s a hardy perennial so can withstand the average winter in most of the UK. Depending on the species it will grow to about 30cm in both height and spread – some are much shorter and spread further, though. Thyme is easy enough to propagate: you can grow it from seed, however I find semi-ripe cuttings are as good a method as any.
There are about 350 species of thyme (including three which grow wild in Britain) but the three most widely used in the kitchen are garden or common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) and broad-leaved thyme (Thymus pulegioides). They are native to rocky sites and dry, usually chalky, grasslands of Europe, western Asia and North Africa, which gives us a good idea about how to grow them: they like a warm, sunny site with well-drained soil and they hate wet feet, particularly during the dormant season. That’s why I grow my thyme in a pot – Lancashire is not particularly renowned for it’s sunny, warm, fairly arid conditions so I tailor the soil in, and the position of, the container to make my thyme feel as comfy as possible.
Thyme is indispensable in the kitchen. One of the great advantages of thyme is that it can withstand long, slow cooking - teamed up with wine, onion and garlic it forms the basis of many famous dishes: boeuf bourguigon, navarin of lamb and coq au vin, to name just three.
Thyme is also one of the main ingredients of the classic bouquet garni (the trio of thyme, bay and parsley has stood the test of time) and herbes de Provence (which herbs should be included in this mixture is hotly debated but the general consensus is that four herbs are vital: oregano, rosemary, sage and our friend thyme).
By the way, bees and other pollinating insects adore thyme flowers. If you have room for two plants, pinch out the flowers and use the leaves from one plant, but leave the other one to flower to feed the bees.
So, if you haven’t got any thyme in your garden, now is the time!