Thymus pulegioides: broad-leaved thyme, lemon thyme
Variegation in plants is a trait I can take or leave. I blame spireas – a shrub I find especially hideous when variegated – for my aversion, having encountered them one too many times in situations where they’ve looked truly despicable. Yet occasionally, as in hostas, variegation is one of the features that makes a plant interesting enough to build up a cult following. Defined as the appearance of different coloured zones in the leaves, stems or fruits of a plant, variegation arises for a variety of genetic reasons. Natural variegation has largely been preserved and enhanced by gardeners and nurserymen who value the ornamental and ‘lightening’ effect of paler patches, splashes and fringes on a plant’s leaves. Used judiciously, variegated plants can be a godsend, used wantonly they can give one a headache.
As I look around my gardens I find I have almost no variegated plants. Perhaps this is a mistake, as at this time of year there are few flowers to punctuate the sea of green. Whilst lovely, it is, admittedly, a tad monotonous out there. So off I traipse to Broadstairs Garden Centre to see what they have to sprinkle on my green custard. My kind of plants are not generally stocked at our local nursery, but they are a great source of ‘fillers’, herbs, composts and bedding which I rely heavily throughout the season. The first plant to catch my eye was not a variegated plant, but Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’, the purple-leaved wood spurge. “That would look great behind a pot of yellow daffodils” I thought, “what could I buy to go with it?”. My gaze immediately alighted on a shelf populated by seven varieties of thyme, an impressive selection for a small garden centre at this time of year. One stood out from the crowd, Thymus pulegioides ‘Foxley’, possessed of tiny leaves variously dark green, cream and white, and ivory flushed with rose-pink. The scent from the crushed foliage packed a punch even on a cold, windy winter’s day and I was immediately convinced enough to buy two plants; one for London and one for Broadstairs. They will live in pots, in full sunshine, and I shall take cuttings in due course to guarantee I am never without this pretty, ground-hugging herb.