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Thursday, 9 February 2012

My top garden plants - Thyme and Oregano

There was a programme on the telly last night about flowers, bees and butterflies by Sarah Raven which I recorded and will watch tonight. I thought it rather apt given I've been writing about these things, and glad I am not the only person who is discussing them in the depths of winter, which might seem a bit mad. But not only do I have the time to do so right now, if it is at all helpful to anyone reading this who may wish to do more to encourage our nectar loving and pollinating insects into their gardens then all the better to do so now at the planning stage so there is time to get that herb bed organised or flower seeds ordered!


When we first moved here I had a very dry sloping bank and decided to grow some wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum) from seed. It was a bit difficult as the seed is tiny, consequently the seedlings are tiny too so are a bit tricky to prick out and pot on. But I persevered and within a year had a good show of thyme which over the years has spread to fill in all the gaps. I now see clumps of it growing in the grass on the other side of the drive and somehow it has found its way into the back garden flower beds (via the compost no doubt) so if it's fine where it is, it stays, it it isn't, then it doesn't harm to remove it, because I doubt I am ever going to be without it!

My thyme bank, before flowering

This is the only Jersey Tiger Moth that I saw last year. It stood out a mile on the thyme and I rushed inside to grab my camera. They are daytime flying moths and have incredible markings, as you can see.

Its underside is just as beautiful.

Thyme also attracts the little brown butterflies such as the Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, as well as many honey bees.


Is there an actual difference between these two? I always feel it's rather a personal choice, much like the words pumpkin or squash. I have two varieties, the bog standard dark green leafed with lilacy-pink coloured flowers and Golden Marjoram-or-is-it-Oregano, which has striking bright yellow leaves in spring and bright pink but quite small flowers in summer. The former seems to attract honey bees in their droves (hard to photograph this in a way that shows how many there are on one plant) whereas the golden variety attracts the little brown butterflies more.

This is a Gatekeeper butterfly on the golden marjoram.

And here are several of them, with the flowers visible.

I don't think I really need to go into detail about the culinary virtues of either of these herbs as I'm sure nearly everyone will have used them or at least eaten them, even if only dried, whether thyme in Herbes de Provence or oregano sprinkled on pizza!

It suddenly occurred to me the other day that the vast majority of these plants, that I have been or will be talking about in this series of common garden nectar rich flowering plants, seem to self seed with gay abandon. If they don't self seed quite so much as some of the others then they tend to spread like crazy and can swamp other established plants (oregano/marjoram are two of these 'thugs', and to a lesser extent, thyme), so need a bit of digging out and dividing occasionally.

The sole exception is lavender, which bees do love, but I've not had a single one self seed. Even my rosemary self seeds in the gravel for god's sake, but lavender? Nope! 


  1. You are lucky with your thyme bank - in our soggy clay soil and our shady garden, our thyme is all straggly and hopeless. Clearly I need a sunny gravel bank!

  2. You probably wouldn't believe that at times it is too dry here even for wild thyme and it needs copious watering otherwise it just goes all yellow and sad.... oh if only we could have a mix of each other's soils - I need some clay!