Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thyme and Thyme Again

Did I hear my local Meteorologist right tonight on the evening news?   It’s going to be ninety five degrees within the next few days.  If this is true—summer is already here!  What happened to spring?  Regardless, this will be a real treat after an unusually cool spring here in the Sonoran Desert.   The warm weather is inviting and will be a perfect time to clean and prepare the herb garden for the upcoming months.   Among the many herbs up for inspection in my garden is the hardy Thyme

Thyme, Thymus vulgaris also known as Garden Thyme or Wild Thyme is a member of the mint family.   Thyme is an annual, perennial and herb that blooms in early summer with small fragrant purple, pink or white flowers.   Presently, there are over one hundred types of thyme around the world.   Three of the most popular varieties are the Garden, Lemon and Wild Thyme.

Variegated and Narrow Leaf Thyme

Ways to distinguish the common varieties are by their leaves, which are either narrow or broad leaved, or variegated.   Thyme is used throughout the Sonoran Desert as ground cover and grows well in containers.  It is also used decoratively for its cascading abilities to creep along walls and throughout rock gardens.  Imagine growing some Creeping Thyme or having some Wild Thyme in your own garden.

I grow my Thyme in a large decorative clay pot, which I keep elevated on a plant stand.  The stand holds the oversized pot fourteen inches off the ground and keeps the annoying, but cute desert rabbits from getting into my prized possession.  This hardy leafy plant grows at its best in loamy, well drained and neutral soil conditions.   My Thyme gets full sun with almost no shade and perseveres in the warm desert weather.   Although, thyme is known more for its culinary appeal, it has a variety of medicinal properties that just may surprise you.    

In the Kitchen…
Thyme gives off a pungent, bitter and warm flavor when used in: soups, gumbos, chicken, vegetables, jams and stews.   For other uses, it can be made into tea, tinctures and oils, or dried in capsules.   It has also been found to aid in the digestion of high fat foods.  

Additional Uses for…
Thyme are found in its medicinal properties such as: antibacterial, antifungal, astringent, sedative, tonic and diuretics.  It also stimulates the lungs by relieving congestion, and rejuvenates and boosts the immune system.    Thyme can be used as a topical for conditions such as: arthritis, insect bites and stings.  Herbalists suggest using Thyme as a bath herb for sore muscles or add to homemade soaps and massage oils.

Thyme when the stems appear to be spiny and lacking their leaves.
If slightly out of shape, then prune lightly.  
Prune in late summer after the bloom, or in the fall after the first frost.

More Fun Thymes
Hi Ho Silver Thyme, Moonlight Thyme, Winter Thyme, Passion Pink Thyme, Lime Thyme, French Thyme, English Thyme, Silver Thyme, Tuffet Thyme, Common Thyme, Orange Thyme, Lemon Thyme, and Wild Thyme.

See Sources Tab for References

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rosemary Trails, Green and Blue

This winter has been one of the coldest on record for the last fifty years in the Sonoran Desert region.  Until the freezing temperatures, my trees, shrubs and plants have endured six years of vitality with no problems.  My yard, however and everyone else’s in the neighborhood is a fiasco of brown demise.   After loosing over thirty plants, it is now time to re-landscape.   I’m really sorry for the loss, but I find it energizing to explore the season’s new plants at the local nursery.   It’s not the laborious work that excites me, but basking in the after glow of a well thought out and planted garden.

Before planting though, there’s a huge dead plant problem that we must address.  My husband, David and I have to cut back the oversized Lantanas, Hibiscus and Bougainvillea’s.  Then, it’s on to digging out the roots, which I gladly pass the shovel over to him.  Finally after all the laborious work, we cut the plants down to small sticks so they can fit into the green bin that get’s collected once a week.  This part seems like a walk in the park compared to the previous exertion.  With the green bin getting collected once a week, this project should take around six weeks.  

After carefully analyzing ideas for my new garden I realize hardy plants will be best to take the place of those that have recently passed.   In my backyard I have a retaining wall and since all plants will have to be replaced I’ve decided to add Trailing Rosemary.  This will give the area an evergreen and decorative lift. 

Trailing Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis is a fragrant evergreen ground cover that thrives in arid zones.  It also tolerates frost and freezing temps as low as 10° F.   This evergreen is not only attractive, but also blooms tiny blue (almost purple) or white flowers.  The bees do love these flowers, so if you don’t mind the buzzing, then Rosemary will brighten any desert garden all year long. 

Rosemary flowers from winter to spring and does well in the full sun (six hours or more).   This moderate growing ground cover is a desert gardener’s dream because it’s drought resistance and doesn’t need daily watering.  In fact, the plant only needs water every two-three weeks in the summer and once a month in the winter.  If the leaves turn yellow, then take it as a sign to give it more water.  

Rosemary likes a sandy, well-drained soil and requires only a fish/kelp emulsion to jump-start it at the beginning of the growing season.   Although, difficult to start from seed, you can cut a two inch stem from an existing plant and propagate by placing it in water.  Once the roots grow, plant in a warm location with indirect sun until the plant is established, then transplant to a sunny location.  

Plant Trailing Rosemary in herb gardens, containers or in pots on balconies for beautiful cascading effects.  I also use regular upright Rosemary shrubs to accent my retaining wall for a border effect.  This will give any big empty space depth and color.

Trailing Rosemary
Photo by Bev McMann

To prune: Shear the top, but not past the last bit of foliage to encourage the side branches to spread.

Culinary herbs—add to vegetables, poultry and soups.  Rich in Vitamin A, C, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc and Magnesium.
Rosemary infused olive oil
Medicinal/essential oils
Cut Flowers

For References see "Sources" tab.