What a sweet small herb is lemon thyme, as fragrant as it is decorative, a low, sprawling perennial pretty enough for a rock garden or edging a flowerbed. Seeds may not “come true,” that is, the plants may not have the desired scent. Better to pick one from a nursery bench, and give it a good pinch, tousle and sniff to make sure it smells as it should—mild, sweet and citrusy.
Beyond plain green, there are several other varieties, the small rounded leaves edged and flecked with yellow or white; the cultivar ‘Doone Valley’ is variegated with both gold and red.
Thriving in poor gritty soil in a hot sunny spot, conditions that match its Mediterranean and Middle Eastern origins, lemon thyme is hardy to Zone 5 in very well-drained soil. A thick snow cover offers the best winter protection. Lacking snow, lay down several layers of evergreen boughs in late November or early December as dry mulch.
To turn a single plant into several more, lay down side branches and anchor them with a stone or piece of bent wire at the point where they touch the soil. Cover the layer with soil and firm down. In a month or two, new roots will have formed, and the shoots can be severed from the “mother” and planted elsewhere in the garden.
Picking individual lemon thyme leaves can be, well, picky. Instead, snip whole branches off the plant and strip leaves by pulling backward along the branch with your fingertips—a fragrant task.