Thyme: right plant, right place

Judith Adam

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Woolly thyme thrives on a sun-warmed rock. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
Woolly thyme thrives on a sun-warmed rock. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
Woolly thyme thrives on a sun-warmed rock. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

If you’ve had a look at the summer issue of Garden Making, you might notice the editor’s message makes a point about getting the right plant in the right place. A few years ago I planted woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus, Zone 5) next to a small granite rock that’s beside the front steps. Sometimes a plant just knows what to do, and this little woolly thyme fell in love with the rock and completely embraced it. Since then, I always plant any form of creeping thyme next to a rock with the hope that they’ll form a happy marriage.

There’s no doubt that thyme likes any kind of smooth stone, probably because the stone has a dry surface and accumulates day heat, providing warmth and perfect drainage. My neighbour learned a similar lesson after years of trying to grow an extensive border of ‘Blue Ice’ bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia ‘Blue Ice’, Zone 3) along a hot stretch of paved driveway. The bog rosemary suffered a prolonged decline into oblivion, and was eventually replaced with creeping ‘Doone Valley’ thyme (Zone 5). Needless to say, the thyme is spilling out over the stone surface and loving it.

All of which goes to say, I intend to be very thoughtful about where I plant a new, moisture-loving Incrediball hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’, Zone 4), currently sitting in a pot beside the garage. Incrediball hydrangea is descended from ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea (H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Zone 3). ‘Annabelle’ has been perfectly satisfactory for many years, making lots of large white flowerheads from midsummer through frost. But I can be lured by the promise of more and larger flowers (oh, fickle gardener!), and Incrediball promises flowerheads up to 12 inches (30 cm) long, with four times the individual florets in each monstrous head. Yes, I’m overwhelmed, swayed and influenced by flower greed. But consider this: how much more moisture will be required to support the hugely increased flower size? In all the commentary on Incrediball, no consideration is given to its potentially increased need for even more moisture than required by ‘Annabelle’.

I’ll be careful where this new hydrangea goes into the ground and give it the consistently moist soil and frequent irrigation it surely requires. Incrediball might be the right plant to satisfy hydrangea lust, and it’s going to require the right placement.

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