The Yes Woman: I’m sorry for killing you, my darling lemon thyme
It isn’t easy to kill a Mediterranean herb but somehow I managed it
Lemon thyme: RIP. Photograph: Thinkstock
The lemon thyme died. I convinced myself I hadn’t liked it much anyway. Its variegated leaves were vulgar, as though it thought itself above the banality of green thyme. It had a soapy fragrance that seemed more suited to rubbing under your armpits than putting into your dinner. Still, the death haunted me. Its failure as a herb was my failure as a gardener.
It isn’t easy to kill a Mediterranean herb. They don’t like to be treated very well. In fact, they seem to enjoy abuse. These masochists of the plant world prefer to be thrust disdainfully into excoriating, gritty soil. They settle into their arid home and proceed to languish merrily in the dry earth. The thyme didn’t languish at first. Next to the rosemary, it seemed to thrive. Drawing life from the grudging soil, it pumped out an oily scent and seemed happy.
My relationship with the lemon thyme and some other plants began when I agreed, with the help of GroMór, to see whether it would be practical to grow edible plants in a small space. Like many Dubliners, I live in an apartment without a garden. There’s a wild patch along the path on the way up to the house. It is occupied by a fluffy and easily distracted cat I call William that lives mostly in a thatch of clematis, where he conducts mysterious feline business. We live on the first floor, where William cannot venture and there’s barely any room for plants.
The day the plants arrived, I was filled with a sense of indomitable promise. Grow bags and planters blocked up the front door, while small, sturdy-looking plantlets waggled up at me as I dragged them through the living room to start allocating each one a new home. Tomatoes, chillies, strawberries, herbs and a ruffled selection of salad plants seemed to hold in their tiny buds and concave leaves a world of culinary possibility. Gently, reverently, I put the roots of each plant to bed in the soil and tucked them in.
Fast-forward six weeks, and I’m leaning out a window, shouting abuse at the desiccated corpse of the lemon thyme. Below, next to his Clematis, William is lying on his back with his fluffy legs akimbo, looking regal, disapproving and stupid. In his squint I read judgment, so I stop admonishing the dead plant and lean back inside, embarrassed. The rest of the plants are doing all right, but I can’t get past the loss of the lemon thyme.
I tried everything. It morphed from a luxuriant sphere to a flat, straggling mess. Despite it being woody and unpalatable, a strange species of fly colonised it. No amount of trimming or pesticides could retrieve it from the precipice of death.
It is now a dry, twiggy mess that poses a fire hazard, so I wrench its skeleton from the soil in frustration and toss it angrily into William’s clematis. He is unfazed.
I sit down later to eat the first salad, prepared from the small crop growing in a window box, proud that these leaves, at least, have survived without infestation or possession by evil spirits. They’re delicious – crisp, tangy and straight from the earth – and they make a dull salad interesting. Despite the lemon thyme’s demise, the endeavour has been a success. The tomatoes look strong in their grow bag, and enjoy regular feedings with tomato food. When no one is around I tell them how well they’re doing and rub their leaves a bit.
The hard kernels of what will – with luck and some sunshine – become strawberries have started to form. I check them regularly, anticipating the blush of ruby that will start to spread across them if I can only keep the blackbirds away. William – being sedentary and not my cat – is little help in this respect (I recently witnessed a fat wood pigeon walk around his sleeping form on its way down the garden path).
So growing things is an enjoyable hobby. Watching my little garden develop – and eating bits of it – gives me smug pleasure. I notice that a collection of plants has suddenly appeared outside the apartment downstairs; it appears that the GroMór initiative is catching on. My achievements have been small but satisfying. When people ask I don’t mention the lemon thyme.
- Yes to . . . gardening. No to . . . arrogant herbs