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Cinderella’s Hearth: Thyme for the Garden, by Kate Wolford

Editor’s note: For many years, I wrote a home and garden column for a small newspaper. Today I’m reprinting one I wrote in 2021. (KW)

Thyme is one of the two herbs I absolutely must have in my garden. The other is lavender. I have a number of other herbs growing, but those two are essential, for scent and beauty. Thyme has one more important quality: It flavors food. I’m aware that lavender is often used in cooking, but it lacks the savoriness of thyme. Me? I don’t want to eat or drink anything with a strong lavender flavor, but there’s a lot of disagreement on the tastiness of lavender.

All thyme is edible, but the best for faster harvesting and top flavoring is usually English, French, common or lemon. This is the “tall” kind, which is the only one I have in my garden. It runs anywhere from six to 12 inches and is very easy to gather in. I use it to edge a good portion of our garden, as it flops beautifully over our brick edging.

Thyme handles our Northern Indiana winters very well. It turns brown in my garden, but then, every April, it begins to green up again, and has lovely white flowers from late spring through early summer.  They smell lovely and the bees get positively drunk on the scent, which makes it an excellent choice of you want to help out pollinators.

The other popular type of thyme is the creeping kind. It is absolutely lovely in the right kind of garden. Very low growing, at between two and six inches, it is a bit slow getting started, but after the plants are established, they move along reasonably quickly. The flowers range from white to red to purple. Planted in a checkerboard pattern, they give an extreme wow factor to your garden. Creeping thyme also looks lovely growing between and over rocks, and some people even use it in place of grass. Oh how I wish I could do that, but alas, our neighborhood requires a standard lawn.

Like most herbs, thyme does not like to be fussed over. Plant it in soil you’ve amended with some compost or other organic matter, then water well (but you want it to live its life in well-drained soil). After that, just don’t let it get too dry, but leave it alone. Don’t worry about feeding it. Just let it grow.

As for folklore, one story has it that thyme was in Baby Jesus’s manger, and that’s where it got its unforgettable scent. What a lovely idea. In the secular world, thyme is said to give you courage, and in many cultures, burning thyme is thought to “purify” both people and their surroundings. In the olden times of England, it was thought that if you rubbed thyme on your eyes, you just might see the fairies. Ouch! I think the oils in the plant would sting.

During the Black Death, plague doctors put thyme in nosegays to protect them from stench and disease. Thyme is, in fact, an antiseptic, and unlike many essential oils, thyme really will kill bacteria, so maybe those old doctors were onto something.

As for cooking, well, thyme can be assertive. I like it best in soups. I’ll just grab a sprig from my garden and throw it in whole. It’s easy to fish out when your soup is done.

Mmmm. That makes me want chicken soup.

Thyme’s up. See you next week.


Unsplash image by Alejandro Piñero Amerio.


Kate Wolford is the publisher of The Fairy Tale Magazine, and runs The Enchanted Press. The press recently published the Cinderella continuation novel, Glass and Feathers, by Lissa Sloan. Get your copy here.


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