Most gardens have a pathway and generally we think of it as being no more than a means of getting from one area to another.
But, imagine your pleasure if that pathway was also a fragrant, sensory experience every time you walked along it. A perfumed pathway that is easy to maintain can be created with varieties of creeping thyme. Such thymes grow happily in cracks, between informally laid paving stones or in more regular spaces created by removing alternate pavers. The beauty of a thyme pathway is that these tough little plants thrive in full sun, relatively poor soil and are very drought tolerant once established.
Why use thyme for your walkway?
The spreading foliage and tiny pink, white or purple flowers of creeping thymes are most effective for softening the hard edges of a path.
A thyme pathway fits into almost any garden style, but is especially useful for integrating a pathway into natural or indigenous gardens that are more informal.
Because of its tiny, fine leaves thyme stands out so much better when off-set by stone, brick or gravel.
Thyme traffic tip
Although thyme tolerates a fair amount of foot traffic, it is a good idea to place the stepping or paving stones so that the thyme doesn’t bear the full brunt of the feet. Make the spaces between the stones smallest where traffic is heaviest and widen them out towards the sides of the path. This also gives the pathway a more natural look.
The most suitable varieties are the spreading, ground hugging, almost flat thymes that produce a dense mat of leaves. For a lovely effect, combine three or more creeping varieties with different flower and foliage colours and textures.
Thymus doerfleri (Bressingham thyme) is a spreading 2cm high, free-flowering variety with pink/purple flowers and tiny, aromatic grey-green hairy leaves that form a dense mat.
Thymus coccineus (Creeping thyme) also has very small, fine aromatic leaves that form a carpet. It has a slightly higher growth of up to 7cm and has crimson-pink flowers in summer. Clipping maintains the dense texture.
‘Doone Valley’ thyme is a hybrid with lemon-scented leaves and heads of small purple flowers. It grows 5cm high but has the more open growth habit of a spreading groundcover.
Thymus serpyllum ‘Alba’ (White thyme) has tiny, bright green leaves and white flowers. It is a very good groundcover and although it can grow up to 30cm it responds well to clipping, developing a mat-like texture.
Thyme varieties like ‘Silver Posie’, lemon thyme and French thyme grow more upright. To make the most of their lovely foliage, they can be planted on the outer edges of your walkway or in containers. Simply trim them more frequently.
Thyme is one of the best culinary and medicinal herbs available. It imparts a delicious flavour to most dishes. Medicinally, it is a strong antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal herb.
How to convert an existing pathway
Lift out pavers in a regular or irregular pattern or simply use existing crevices and cracks. Whatever you decide, loosen the soil to provide depth for drainage and root development. Mix in good quality soil and compost. Remove any weed guard or lining under the paving. When planting in cracks, try to separate the plant into smaller sections and use an old kitchen knife to gently tuck them into the cracks. Fill around them with more soil if necessary. Water well after planting and water regularly until the plants are established. A liquid feed will give the plants a boost. Avoid walking on the plants until they are well established.
DID YOU KNOW? Pavers create their own micro-climates which encourages the growth of the plants. Condensation often occurs on the underside of the stones, providing natural moisture.
How to create a new thyme walkway
Level the area, removing any stones and sticks. Lay the stepping stones, or pavers, first. They should be on a base of gravel or crushed rock. Enrich the soil inbetween with compost and make sure that it drains well. Plant the thyme as you would in the garden, allowing space between the plants for spreading. The plants should be level with the pavers. Water the plants well after planting and during the first season water regularly and weed and feed with a liquid fertiliser once or twice. Avoid walking on the plants until they are well established. This usually takes one season.
A thyme pathway requires almost no maintenance. Clip the plants if necessary and water them regularly during very hot weather. Remove weeds while the thyme is spreading but, once it becomes dense, there will be very few weeds. Feed periodically with a liquid fertiliser to prevent the plants from becoming scraggly.
Most gardeners can only dream about having a garden as spectacular as the one Prince Charles has created at Highgrove in Gloucestershire, but this inspirational organic garden is filled with ideas that you can adapt, on a smaller scale, in your own garden. The Thyme Walk is magnificent – not only does it fill the air with the scent of thyme, but it is also lined with clipped yew, each one cared for by a different gardener who is allowed to mould it into any shape they wish. HRH The Prince of Wales has spent 30 years transforming the grounds of Highgrove into one of the most inspired and innovative gardens in the UK. The Prince’s philosophy that it is better to work with nature than against it means that only organic principles and sustainable methods are used in the garden, allowing both plants and wildlife to thrive in a natural environment. Visit www.highgrovegardens.comfor more information about this garden and details on how to visit it.