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Tarragon, French.Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa'. French tarragon is a kitchen legend and an epicure's delight. The anise-flavored, narrow, green leaves are good used fresh in salads or with spinach; the leaves are also chopped and cooked in sauces and with fish and chicken. For many, tarragon made vinegar palatable. Plants with true flavor can be grown only from cuttings and crown divisions; seeds produce an inferior plant, vigorous but flavorless. Tarragon is a plant that thrives on dryness (its native habitat receives about a foot of rain a year) and its cultivation is not difficult, but it is not a plant that flourishes on neglect in our wet, humid climate. Thebest site for tarragon is in full sun all day, although 4 hours will do in a pinch. Soil should be fertile and well-drained with a pH between 4.5 and 8. Keeping your tarragon dry will provide many years of pleasure from the plant. Here are five ways to foster dryness: prune foliage often so air can circulate through the leaves; mulch with sand; allow plenty of space between tarragon and everything else; don't water in a way that wets foliage; remove any dying or dead foliage immediately. A mature tarragon might reach 18 inches tall in a garden where it grew for its ragged beauty instead of culinary desirability. A good crown can be as much as a foot wide. Space plants for the future, not the present; 18 to 24-inch centers are about right, although you may think it is a bit far apart after you have just transplanted a plant from a 2 1/2-inch pot. Plants are hardy to -20°F.
One of the most famous of the French herbs and indispensable in the kitchen. Its sweet, warm, spicy flavor complements a variety of meats, soups, stews, vegetables, breads, and desserts. As a small landscape specimen in the perennial border, it adds interest and, in variegated forms, pleasing color. It makes an acceptable low hedge for either formal or informal uses and its soft pastel flowers herald the warmth of spring.
Most thyme varieties are hardy to -20°F. A full day of sun is desirable, but plants require at least 4 hours of sun for growth and health. A fertile, well-drained loam with a pH range between 4.5 and 8 should produce healthy plants. Although there is no sight as pleasant as a thick thyme plant taking over a small part of the garden, especially where it may be rocky, our humid climate often tests the disease resistance of the species. It is wise to remove dead stems and cut back upright plants where they meet the soil in a spring pruning that invigorates the vegetation and helps to reduce future disease problems.
Thyme.Thymus 'Wedgewood English'. This is much the same as flat-leafed English thyme, except for a small, light-colored mark on each leaf that looks like a Wedgewood china pattern, increasing its ornamental value. This variety is a discovery of Cyrus Hyde at Well-Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey. Space 18 to 24 inches.
Thyme, English.Thymus 'Broad-leaf English'. Thanks to the ground breaking work of Harriet Flannery Phillips, we know a lot more about thyme than we did before she completed her study of the genus Thymus in 1982. What we called English Thyme may have been one of the biggest surprises: it is unable to reproduce itself from seed because it is a single sex, (female) and seedling offspring would have to be hybrids. This is the true English thyme which makes those soft, round 12-inch high mounds. It is softly aromatic and winter hardy with delicate spring blooms. It can be reproduced only from cuttings. An easy way to distinguish English thyme is to look at the leaves. The leaf-margins of this thyme are flat, without the slightest curl.
Thyme, Golden Lemon.Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus'. A variegated form of lemon thyme with golden-edged leaves, it is colorful and surprisingly fragrant of lemons. The variegation is less pronounced during the hot, sunny days of summer. Space on 18 to 24-inch centers.
Thyme, Green Lemon.Thymus x citriodorus. This rapidly growing thyme has deep green leaves imbued with a sweet lemony fragrance. Rubbing a chicken's skin with lemon thyme turns a simple roasted bird into a gourmet treat. Semi-upright plants are about 12 inches tall.
Thyme, Lavender.Thymus 'Pinewood'. Perennial, though not reliably hardy in this area. Probably the same plant as the hybrid Thymus 'Pinewood'. The common name refers to the unusual purple flower color, not to any similarity in aroma to its namesake. This semi-upright/ trailing variety forms a beautiful dense green mat. Makes good low border plant. Height to 4-6 inches. Edible but better suited as an ornamental variety.
Thyme, Silver.Thymus 'Argenteus'. The leaves of this thyme have a unique silver glow created by gray-green leaves edged with silver, a wonderful contrast with the traditional green leaves in the thyme bed. It forms an aromatic mound. A border edged with this thyme will prove eye-catching.
What we call French thyme is much more complex than we ever realized, according to the latest research. The name is more an umbrella under which reside a number of thyme varieties with distinct characteristics. One trait they all share is leaf-margins that curl under. In recent years, we have made an effort to distinguish some of the subtleties of aroma and shape that seem valuable and separate them from the generic for you to enjoy for their unique beauty and aroma.
Thyme.Thymus vulgaris 'Narrow-Leaf French'. (German Winter, Common, Garden). We have often grown this variety from seed, but notice from time to time differences in aroma and leaf shape. We selected a plant with aroma and upright stature and now propagate it from cuttings to assure uniformity. The plant has medium-sized leaves and an aroma without harshness. Small lilac blossoms appear in spring. Grows 12 to 16 inches tall.
Thyme.Thymus vulgaris 'Orange Balsam'. The narrow, sharply pointed dark green leaves pack a wallop with an intense aroma of balsam and oranges. Plants are dense, about 12 inches high and 15 inches wide. Plant on 12 to 15 inch centers.
Thyme.Thymus vulgaris 'Provencal'. This variety was selected from seedlings of common thyme by Thomas DeBaggio for its strong aroma. It has a woody, upright growth habit, becoming somewhat gnarled after several years. Leaves are tiny, gray-green arrowheads, held throughout the year. Mature plants are 12 to 16 inches tall and may spread to 24 to 36 inches if left unpruned. Excellent culinary variety.
Most creeping thymes offer little in the way of aroma or flavor. Of course, it is there albeit subtle which limits these plants' usefulness in the kitchen. Their charm is in the way they hug the earth and spread a subtle rug of many textures and colors. Creeping thymes and hanging baskets have an affinity for each other that an artist would admire. A mulch of sand or small stones 1 inch deep spread across the prepared soil will warm the roots and help dry the dense foliage of these beauties, extending their lives for many years. They creep not in the way of mints, via stolons, but because their stems root as they lie on the earth's surface.