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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time for the Thymes

'Thymes Square' reads the hand-painted, wooden sign my sister made for me. Proudly it proclaims one of my favorite spots in the herb garden - a  patchwork of alternating squares of 12-inch concrete blocks and open spaces bordered on three sides with narrow raised beds. A primitive post-and-board-fence arrangement that supports the sprawling growth of grapevines provides dappled shade from a hot summer sun that bores down at mid-day.

Even their names evoke a fragrant melange - Coconut, Blue Balsam, Caraway, Camphor. The staid English and  frivolous French halt their feud and share the sunshine with Creeping Red, Woolly and Golden. One of my favorite thymes is 'Odena's Kitchen' named for Odena Brannam, my mentor. It was she who introduced me to and educated me in the world of herbs, just as she has done for many, many others here in East Texas.

My assortment of thyme varieties spill over the neighboring stones. As long as I remember to provide adequate water, these sturdy herbs thrive in their sandy soil, tucking their spreading, shallow roots beneath the protective shade of nearby concrete slabs. Most prolific of all is the green variety of Lemon Thyme and in its persistence, it has sprawled its dense mat to encroach into the gap up to the fence-line. One of my favorite uses for its lemon-tasting leaves is to mince and add a teaspoon or two to a melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookie recipe.

This is the earliest thyme each season to offer its pale pink blossoms for my pleasure - another reason for favoritism. I'm careful to share the tiny blooms with busy bees who add their accompanying hypnotic hum to the melodious rendering of a nearby wren. And abundant pleasure I receive, even when I'm hard at work pulling weeds with the blazing sun boring into my bent back. The still air is filled with a delicious blend drifting upward from the disturbed plants.

Through an unhappy experience, I've had to concede that Elfin Thyme is too fragile to withstand the fierce onslaughts of our Texas summer sun in the open garden. After watching its minute growth struggle and finally shrivel away in August's intense heat, I decided to give a new plant special attention. Tucked into the soil of a large clay pot, it is protected beneath the sheltering arms of a rose geranium. Just like some people, this herb chooses to 'walk a road seldom traveled.'

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