A year ago, as part of our ongoing quest to find a suitable ground cover for our front yard that might actually manage to hold its own against the dandelions and mugwort, we bought a tiny creeping thyme plant at the annual Rutgers plant sale. We don't know the exact variety, but it was described as a low-growing, mat-forming perennial, and I'd seen a few articles here and there about its advantages as a landscape plant. I was a little uncertain about it because most sources (including our gardening Bible, The Weekend Garden Guide by Susan Roth) say it prefers well-drained soil, which our heavy clay definitely is not, but I figured, at $2.50 a plant, it couldn't hurt to buy just one and give it a try.
The plant we bought was in a tiny pot like the one shown at the left side of this photo. We planted it in an open part of the front yard and weeded a little space around it for the creeping thyme to creep into. And creep it did, spreading its tendrils wider and wider, so that Brian kept having to go out and clear a little more space as the thyme took over the area we'd already cleared and pushed its way clear up to the grass line. Over the winter, its color went a little dull (when it was visible rather than entirely smothered by snow), but apparently it made it through undamaged, because as soon as spring came it perked right up and even showed signs of spreading a little more. And in short, that tiny little plant has now spread out to become the dense, lush mass of green you see here.
Given the startling success we had with this first plant, we figured it was certainly worth investing in at least one more. Unfortunately, this year we weren't able to make it to the plant sale until its last day, so we weren't able to find any plants specifically labeled as "creeping thyme." However, we did find some "mother of thyme," (Thymus serpyllum), which seems to be either the same variety or a close relative. The description on the tag wasn't terribly encouraging, as it said this thyme only spreads to a maximum size of 12 inches, less than half the diameter of the patch we've got now—but even a one-foot circle of nice dense foliage is...let's see...about 0.8 square feet where mugwort can't grow, which is still a reasonable investment at $2.50.
If this plant does as well as its predecessor, though, I think we should stop pussyfooting about and just buy up all the creeping thyme at next year's plant sale, and fill the entire front yard.