If varieties of basil are the giants of the herb world, thyme is their miniature counterpart. Growing to only 15” tall or less, their adorable tiny leaves add charm to the herb garden, container gardens, and mixed perennial beds. And while all thyme plants are indeed edible, some are used more for culinary purposes while other fare best as ornamental ground covers. With over 300 thyme varieties to choose from, there is quite literally a thyme for every garden — here are our top 10 favorites!
Top 10 Thyme Varieties
1. Lemon Thyme
I’m starting with my all-time favorite thyme here— lemon thyme looks very similar to English thyme but with a luscious lemon-fresh scent and taste. Add it to fish or chicken marinades, smoothies, and in any recipe calling for lemon juice, zest, or flavor. And guess what else? It takes so well to pruning that you can successfully add it to your traditional knot garden design.
2. Woolly Thyme
This wee little ground cover thyme is one of the best to use in-between pavers and stepping stones. The growth is creeping and spreading, sporting gray, dense leaves. Woolly thyme rarely blooms, so if you’re not a fan of flower-loving bees, this could be the thyme for you.
3. Creeping Pink Thyme
Another ground cover thyme, Creeping Pink fares best when it’s allowed to spread out rather than camp out between pavers. It has charming plumper leaves and a wealth of tiny pink flowers — and it’s much more heat and drought tolerant than other varieties.
4. Elfin Thyme
One of the smallest and slowest growing of all the thymes, Elfin has diminutive green leaves and lavender flowers. Like Woolly thyme, Elfin does best when allowed to fill in-between stepping stones
5. Juniper Thyme
One of the culinary thymes, Juniper has stiffer silvery leaves, similar to the appearance of juniper needles, and it stays at a mere 6” tall. It also offers a profusion of pink flowers that shine in alpine rock gardens (no offensively hot summers for this one, please).
6. Lavender Thyme
While it only reaches 3” tall, Lavender thyme’s growth habit is not completely flat, making it a better candidate for rock gardens and fillers rather than as a steppable ground cover. And the fragrance? You know it — a heavenly lavender scent that delights when you’re up close and personal. Pink flowers add to its charm.
7. Italian Oregano Thyme
A taller culinary thyme, Italian Oregano grows to 12” tall with a zesty flavor that pairs well in an Italian dish. Its pink flowers will bloom for about one month, after which you’ll want to cut it back to encourage more edible growth for your next dinner party.
8. Silver Thyme
Silver thyme has bright, variegated leaves with a white-edge green coloration. Growing to 1’ tall, this beauty has pink flowers and can be used in any recipe that calls for thyme, but don’t forget to add it to your container garden for intriguing texture and color play.
9. Caraway Thyme
This is one of those thymes that pulls double duty as both a ground cover and a culinary herb. Its strong flavor and scent can be used in any recipe as a true caraway substitute, while its tiny 4” height and rosy pink flowers work hard to quickly fill in open spaces in the garden.
10. Pennsylvania Dutch Tea Thyme
As its name suggests, Pennsylvania Dutch Tea is perfect (fresh or dried) for tea-brewing, and can be substituted for any recipe calling for English thyme. It has dark, oval leaves, pink flowers, and grows to about 1’ tall.
- Sun: Full to partial sun
- Water: Moderate. Thyme dislikes being overwatered, and will tolerate slightly drier soil conditions after it’s established.
- Soil: Well-drained
- Fertilizer: None
- Flowers: Pink, lavender, white
- Type: Perennial
- Uses: Herb/apothecary gardens, container gardens, mixed perennial beds, borders, as groundcover
- Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-11, depending upon variety