“Garners Gay (Rue; The Sprig of Thyme)”


Of a girl who has lost her thyme and her love. She uses other symbols to describe her sad state: With her thyme gone, her life is "spread all over with rue"; a woman is a "branching tree"; a man, a wind blowing through the branches and taking what he can


In flower symbolism, thyme stood for virginity. For a catalog of some of the sundry flower symbols, see the notes to "The Broken-Hearted Gardener."

Thyme songs are almost impossible to tell apart, because of course the plot (someone seduces the girl) and the burden (let no man steal your thyme) are always identical. For the same reasons, verses float freely between them. So fragmentary versions are almost impossible to classify.

The Digital Tradition has a version, "Rue and Thyme" (not to be confused with the Ballad Index entry with that title) which seems to have almost all the common elements. Whether it is the ancestor of the various thyme songs, or a gathering together of separate pieces, is not clear to me.

This is one of the more lyric versions of the piece, usually with almost no information about the actual seduction. The mention of multiple herbs, especially rue, seems characteristic.

To show how difficult all this is, Randolph and Ritchie have texts of this called "Keep Your Garden Clean" which are pretty much the same except for the first verse. On the basis of that distinction, I filed Randolph' with "In My Garden Grew Plenty of Thyme" and Ritchie's with "Garners Gay (Rue; The Sprig of Thyme)."

Jean Ritchie calls this a version of "The Seeds of Love," and Randolph calls his a "Seeds of Love" variant also, and Roud's classification seems to agree. I don't, though I rather wish I could, given the difficulty of distinguishing. - RBW

Cross references


  • Murray, Mu23-y1:104, "The Wheel of Fortune," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 19C [an incredible mixture, with the "Wheel of Fortune" verse, though the rest seems an amalgam of thyme songs -- here spelled "time"; I file it here in desperation]; also Mu23-y1:105, "The Wheel of Fortune," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 19C [even more mixed, with the "Wheel of Fortune" verse, a thyme stanza, a bit of "Fair and Tender Ladies," a "Queen of Heart" verse, and more]


  • Sara Cleveland, "The Maiden's Lament" (on SCleveland01)


  1. Silber-FSWB, p. 163, "Rue" (1 text)
  2. Stokoe/Reay, pp. 80-81, "The Willow Tree, or, Rue and Thyme" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Ritchie-Southern, p. 56, "Keep Your Garden Clean" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Roud #3
  6. BI, FSWB163


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1900 (Stokoe/Reay)
Found in: Britain(England(North))