Creeping Thyme, also called Mother of Thyme, is the ideal plant for growing small crevices, borders, and between nooks and crannies. It spreads rapidly and, once established, requires no attention. It grows less than a few inches high and forms a low carpet, hugging the ground over flat rocks and small boulders.
Creeping Thyme is not for everybody. It is not a show stopper because it does not have impressive, showy flowers. Instead, it is appreciated for its detail when viewed from a close-up.
Creeping Thyme is one of those rare perennials whose foliage is as beautiful as its flowers. In my opinion, Creeping Thyme is beautiful all year round, and the mid-summer flowers are merely a bonus.
Creeping Thyme Facts
Another feature of Creeping Thyme is its hardiness. I constantly walk on the stuff, run the wheelbarrow over it, and even allow the kids to run their bicycles over it periodically, and it seems to enjoy the abuse.
For interesting dusty-gray foliage, try Wooly Thyme (thymus pseudolanuginosus). It performs well with aggressive foliage but seems to have fewer flowers. Thymus serpyllum ‘Albus has shiny, dark-green leaves with white flowers.
Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineus’ has dark green foliage that turns bronze in fall. The flowers are light pink. Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ is a dwarf variety with tiny flowers and tiny leaves. Use this variety in alpine troughs and small containers. Another variety, ‘Doone Valley,’ has leaves that are variegated in green and gold.
Several other plants tolerate occasional foot traffic. Irish Moss (sagina subulata) is a moss-like plant with bright green foliage and tiny white blooms. Spanish Moss is similar, with golden foliage.
Sedum is a family of creeping plants that require as little attention as Thyme. It grows very quickly, thrives in dry soil, and withstands considerable foot traffic. Several varieties are available with bloom colors in yellow, red, white, and pink.
Another choice for plants that can be stepped on is Dwarf Wallflower (Erysimum kotschyanum). Interesting light green leaves resembling tiny maple leaves give rise to bright yellow flowers very early in spring.
Speedwell (veronica) represents a group of plants that thrives on sun and heat. While most Speedwells grow tall, a few varieties can be stepped on. Veronica ‘Waterperry Blue’ has shiny green foliage that turns bronze in late fall to winter. It grows only a few inches high with blue flower spikes.
Creeping Thyme, along with the other plants that tolerate foot traffic, likes to be planted in sunny, hot locations. They are also not fond of water, preferring instead to live in poor and well-drained soil.
For a fragrant lawn, plant creeping thymes along your garden’s main routes. Creeping thymes throw down aerial roots to form a magical scented carpet that releases its delicious fragrance when crushed underfoot.
Mass-plant them so they can parade their white, pink, red, or mauve flowers in patchwork symphonies but watch out for bees when they’re in flower.
History and Origins
Native to the Mediterranean region, most thymes have the same growing requirements: lots of sunshine and well-drained, almost gravelly, soil.
Plant thyme in the front of garden beds for a border that complements more showy ornamental plants, or pair thyme with ornamental bulbs, such as daffodils; their stalks will pierce through the thyme at the beginning of spring, flower, and die back before the thyme starts to take off in late spring.
Then through the year, there will be groundcover above the dormant bulbs, which will help prevent accidentally digging up bulbs.
Thyme is very well-behaved and spreads slowly. It needs consistent watering during the first year but can withstand drought conditions once well established.
Regular pruning in spring and fall keeps the plants’ health by removing less-productive old wood, the presence of which renders the plants less likely to survive winter because new growth is stronger and harder.
Thyme grows from seed, but there’s hardly any reason to start it that way, as it propagates easily by other methods. Thyme’s horizontal growing habits mean that lateral branches easily root. Softwood cuttings can also be rooted in potting mediums.
A sprig of thyme can be clipped any time you may need to add fresh flavor to your food. Always harvest culinary thymes before they go into bloom a few days ahead of summer and a second time post-Labor Day.
Half of the growth may be safely clipped. Thyme gives hearty flavor to soups, gravies, and meat sauces.
It is a key ingredient in bouquets garni and herbes de Provence, two traditional herb mixes in French cuisine.
Lemon thyme is particularly good with poultry or when added to herbal vinegar.