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In Season: Spring Thyme

04.03.11

I know the title reads like a cheesy April fool’s post, but seriously, if you’re a botanist, can you please explain this to me? I’ve noticed for years that english thyme, when the snow recedes, is in about as good a shape as it was in November or December when it was covered. This, in and of itself is remarkable for a plant, but the part I don’t get is that this wonderful condition is temporary – these same lovely thyme leaves will desiccate and ‘die back’ every year. Which leaves a bizarre opportunity in our spring local food void: english thyme being ‘in season’ for a brief  couple weeks post-snow.

This year, that time is now in my south-facing garden bed against the house. Most years it’s mid-late March. So we go thyme-less for 4 of the winter months, get it again for a couple weeks, then it’s toast again for nearly 2 months until early June’s new growth. I just don’t get it.

Why english thyme? Not even indigenous wild thyme that I grow fares the same. Why is this state temporary? Perhaps it gets along with fall’s pork and just doesn’t want to miss out.  I do want to know. In the meantime, I’m going to be celebrating fresh thyme from the garden as the first seasonal ingredient of the year.

7 Responses

  1. My thyme never winters, and I do have English – maybe the microclimate “corner” you have yours in? But, it looks like it is in a pot? It wintered in a pot? Was it – is it – against the house?
    :)

  2. ACF – I don’t think I’ve ever had thyme NOT winter over. My suspicion is that you haven’t given it long enough to come back, as it’s one of the last herbs to come around? Wasn’t in a pot – that was a coffee mug I used to hold the clippings. I’ve had it over winter in shady spots, sunny spots, etc. And I also have LOTS of mature plants now, and have seeded a few dozen more [important ground cover in my 'forest garden' - that and strawberry], so I have enough to share.

  3. Judy Z. says:

    Have you considered planting some on the north side of the house where the snow takes for ever to disappear? That way you could extend the time a bit. The south facing would be fresh first and once it died off maybe you would have the north facing. Just a theory.

  4. amy manning says:

    Thyme is my absolute favorite herb. But it doesn’t do that well for me. My theory is that since I live in such a rainy climate (Pacific Northwest zone 8), it hates too much water. Which is probably what is happening with you–the ground is likely frozen underneath that snow, and if it is frozen that means the plant does not have access to water. But then, when it thaws, the plant resents all that water.

    I think that I am going to try growing some of my thyme in a pot from now on, and move it indoors when the rainy season starts. Besides, I hate tromping through the mud all the time!

  5. [...] on the heels of thyme’s brief offering is the first observed sign of new growth of the year. Tasty growth. This is wild chive. I started a [...]

  6. Isabelle says:

    That second photo is beautiful! Those bunches of leaves almost look like flower buds.

  7. Josh Eulert says:

    I think it’s micro climate. The various dwarf thymes I have along the side of the house are a mixed bag this year. The ones by the fence which were covered with snow until very recently are in good green shape right now, the ones against the house where the snow melted a while back and then got cold again look mostly winter killed in spite of two or three years of growth, and the wooly thyme at the corner of the house is in amazing shape.

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