Thymus serpyllum, commonly called wild thyme, creeping thyme or mother-of-thyme, is a hairy, prostrate, creeping, woody-based perennial which is primarily grown as an ornamental ground cover.
Found growing in sandy areas, roadsides, hills, grasslands, or rocky areas in its native Europe and Northwest China. The origin of the word “thyme” is from the Greek word thumos, which means “courage.” During the Medieval Times, thyme was thought to have been an emblem of bravery. The word “thyme” may also have been derived from the Greek word thymos, meaning “perfume.” The plants of this genus typically, are very fragrant.
About Creeping Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Creeping thyme, an attractive herbaceous ground cover that look like a shrub, gracefully spreads to create a colorful carpet. This small plant is loved for its aromatic scent and compact growth, and for its ability to grow in sunny garden environments. The plant features shiny green leaves and tight flower clusters on upright stems.
Creeping thyme grows up to 3” (7.5 cm) tall and has creeping woody stems growing up to 24” (60 cm) long. This plant is resilient and versatile plant; it thrives in a number of climates but is particularly well-suited to USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Creeping thyme flowers are tiny bell-shaped blossoms, typically pink-purple, magenta, or lilac. Some rare varieties of creeping thyme also bloom with white flowers. The small tubular pinkish-purple flowers grow 0.15” to 0.23” (4 – 6 mm) long. Creeping thyme becomes a flowering mat in late spring and early summer with a scent that range from herbal to highly lemony.
You have the option to cultivate creeping thyme from seeds, but purchasing nursery plants is a simpler route. Once you’ve planted the seedlings, creeping thyme will rapidly spread across bare ground, filling gaps between stepping stones, or draping over retaining walls or containers. Once firmly rooted in your garden, this compact shrub will bloom each spring and summer, adorning your outdoor space with vibrant pink, red, or purple blossoms.
While creeping thyme is primarily grown for ornamental purposes, some varieties are edible and have culinary uses. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to add flavor to a variety of dishes, including meats, stews, salads, and marinades. Additionally, thyme has a long history of use in traditional medicine for its purported antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.
Types of Creeping Thyme
Red Creeping Thyme
Red creeping thyme is also known as Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’. It forms a dense, spreading mat that grows close to the ground. The foliage consists of small, oval-shaped leaves that are green with hints of red or bronze. During the summer months, it produces clusters of tiny flowers that are a striking deep red color, which attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. It reaches a height of only a few inches, but it can spread up to 18 inches or more.
Elfin Creeping thyme
Elfin creeping thyme, also known as Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ is a low-growing mat of foliage that hugs the ground closely. The leaves are small, oval-shaped, and typically bright green, sometimes with hints of bronze or purple. During the summer months, it produces clusters of tiny, tubular flowers that can range in color from white to light pink or lavender. It reaches a height of only a few inches and spreads slowly but steadily.
White Flowering Creeping Thyme
White Flowering Creeping Thyme also scientifically known as Thymus praecox ‘Albiflorus,’. It is characterized by its small, oval-shaped, gray-green leaves that emit a pleasant fragrance when crushed. It forms dense mats of foliage.
As the name suggests, this variety produces tiny white flowers that appear in clusters during the late spring and early summer. It typically reaches a height of only a few inches but can spread up to several feet. It is generally hardy in USDA zones 4-9.
Silver Needle Thyme
Silver needle thyme also scientifically known (Thymus cherlerioides). This unusual species of groundcover thyme grows up to 10cm high. Silver needle thyme abundantly produces small, purple lipped flowers that attract a range of different insects. This thyme’s flowering period is from June to August. Unlike many other thymes that are grassy green, Silver Needle Thyme has a soft silvery green hue. It is generally hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona)
Caraway thyme is a creeping, woody-based perennial, growing to 10 to 25 cm high and spreading out across the ground to a width of 30 cm. The leaves are dark glossy green and hairy. The foliage has a strong aroma of caraway. The flowers are pink with four petals and a prominent lower lip. They are produced in late spring and early summer, and are attractive to bees and butterflies.
Caraway thyme has culinary applications. It pairs well with a variety of dishes, including meats, stews, soups, and roasted vegetables. It can also be used to flavor bread, cheese, and sauces.
Magic Carpet Creeping Thyme
Magic Carpet Creeping Thyme, is also scientifically known as Thymus serpyllum ‘Magic Carpet’. It is a mat-forming thyme with a creeping growth habit, spreading horizontally along the ground. The stems are woody at the base, but the foliage remains soft and herbaceous. The leaves are small, rounded, and densely packed along the stems. They emerge with bright green hues that transition to shades of golden yellow, orange, and red as they mature.
While it is primarily grown for its ornamental value, the leaves do possess a subtle thyme-like aroma. However, its culinary uses are limited compared to other thyme varieties due to its smaller leaf size.
Magic Carpet Creeping Thyme is relatively easy to grow and requires minimal maintenance once established. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil with moderate moisture levels.
Purple Creeping Thyme
Purple creeping thyme, scientifically known as Thymus serpyllum ‘Purple Creeping’ forms a dense, mat-like ground cover that spreads horizontally. It reaches a height of only 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) and can spread up to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) or more.
The leaves are small, oval-shaped, and are greenish-grey to dark green in color. This plant is typically hardy in USDA zones 4-9. It also features abundant and vibrant purple flowers. The flowering period usually occurs in late spring to early summer. The flowering period typically lasts several weeks.
Creeping Woolly Thyme
Creeping Woolly Thyme or Breckland thyme scientifically known as Thymus praecox ‘Pseudolanuginosus,’ forms a dense, mat-like ground cover that spreads horizontally, typically reaching a height of only 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) with a spread of up to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) or more.
This thyme is named woolly because of its fuzzy, woolly foliage. The leaves are tiny, oval-shaped, and densely covered with fine hairs, giving them a soft, silvery-gray appearance. The foliage remains evergreen in most climates, providing year-round interest to the garden even in colder months.
In late spring to early summer, Creeping Woolly Thyme produces clusters of small, tubular flowers held above the foliage on short stems. The flowers can be pale pink to lavender. While the individual flowers are small, they appear in profusion, covering the whole plant.
Woolly thyme plants can be easily started from seed indoors, or from small plugs that are readily available at your local nursery.
Broad-Leaved Lemon Thyme (Thymus pulegioides)
Broad-leaved thyme also referred to as lemon thyme is a creeping dwarf evergreen shrub with woody stems and a taproot.
It features broad, oval-shaped leaves with a glossy texture. The leaves are typically a vibrant green color and have a prominent lemon scent and flavor, which sets this variety apart from other thyme species.
It is rather similar to wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum) but it is larger, and all the stems form flowering shoots. The reddish stems are squarish in cross-section and have hairs on the edges.
The leaves are in opposite pairs with short stalks, and the linear ovate blades have tapering bases and untoothed margins. The plant flowers in July and August.
The usually pink or mauve flowers form rounded umbels and each has a tube-like calyx and an irregular straight-tubed, hairy corolla. The upper petal is notched and the lower one is larger than the two lateral petals and has three flattened lobes which form a lip. Each flower has four projecting stamens and two fused carpels.
Pink Chintz Creeping Thyme
Pink Chintz Creeping Thyme, scientifically known as Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz,’ forms a dense, spreading mat of tiny, fragrant leaves. This variety grows to a height of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) with a spread of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm). It produces delicate clusters of tiny salmon pink flowers during the summer months. The leaves are small, oval-shaped, and emit a pleasant aroma when crushed. This thyme is known for its hardiness, thriving in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9.
It is one of the first Thyme to bloom in spring and is an excellent choice for planting between flagstones and other stone pavers in patios, courtyards, and pathways.
Mediterranean Creeping Thyme (Thymus longicaulis)
Mediterranean Creeping Thyme, scientifically known as Thymus longicaulis, is a species of thyme native to the Mediterranean region. It features small, linear to lance-shaped leaves that are gray-green in color.
It grows to a height of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) and can spread up to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) or more. It is also well-adapted to the Mediterranean climate and is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. During the summer months, it produces clusters of tiny, tubular flowers that can range in color from pink to purple.
Mediterranean Creeping Thyme pairs well with other Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, lavender, and oregano. It also complements low-growing ornamental grasses, sedums, and succulents in garden designs.
Lavender thyme, scientifically known as Thymus x citriodorus ‘lavender is a hybrid plant, combining the traits of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and common thyme (Thymus vulgaris).
Lavender thyme is a relatively low-growing with a spreading habit. On average, it can reach a height of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) and can spread up to 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) wide.
Lavender thyme typically blooms in the summer months, usually from late spring to early summer, depending on the local climate and growing conditions. The flowers of lavender thyme are small and tubular, with a lavender-pink hue.