We could probably spend some time exploring this family of songs. Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry:
In My Garden Grew Plenty of ThymeDESCRIPTION: The singer laments the loss of her thyme. She had spent her life making herself fair, only to find her thyme stolen by a sailor. Now "I gaze on the willow tree," and "I would I were clasped in my lover's arms fast, for 'tis he who has stolen my thyme"
EARLIEST DATE: 1891 (Reeves-Circle)
KEYWORDS: loneliness sailor seduction virginity gardening
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MW,So) Britain(England(Lond,South)) Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (15 citations):
Williams-Thames, pp. 85-86, "I Once Had Plenty of Thyme" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 451)
Reeves-Circle 116D, "Flowers and Weeds" (1 text)
VaughanWilliams/Palmer, #86, "The Red Running Rue" (1 text, 1 tune, although since Vaughan Williams took down only the first and last verses, it's not absolutely clear that the tune goes with this song)
Randolph 90, "Keep Your Garden Clean" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 122-124, "Keep Your Garden Clean" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 90)
Wells, pp. 272-273, "Keep Your Garden Clean" (1 text, 1 tune)
Eddy 28, "Once I Had Plenty of Thyme" (2 texts, 1 tune, although both texts are largely derived from "The Seeds of Love")
Sharp-100E 34, "The Sprig of Thyme" (1 text, 1 tune)
JHCox 138, "The Green Willow Tree: or, Once I Had Plenty of Thyme" (1 text)
Burton/Manning1, p. 90, "A Warning Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-1ed, pp. 196-197, "Come All You Pretty Fair Maids" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-2ed, p. 52, "Come All You Pretty Fair Maids" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-NovaScotia 26, "When I Was in My Prime" (1 text, 1 tune, more like this than the other thyme songs, though it's long and has probably picked up some outside elements)
Pottie/Ellis, pp. 98-99, "When I Was In My Prime" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, THYMEGAR THYMSEED (THYMTH2)
Cyril Poacher, "Plenty of Thyme" (on Voice12)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(2793), "Sprig of Thyme," J.O. Bebbington (Manchester), 1855-1858
cf. "The Seeds of Love"
cf. "Thyme, It Is a Precious Thing"
cf. "The Gowans are Gay"
cf. "Garners Gay (Rue; The Sprig of Thyme)"
NOTES [256 words]: 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. Steve Roud seems to lump all of them.
The Digital Tradition has a version, "Rue and Thyme," 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.
The first line here, "In my garden grew plenty of thyme," is diagnostic but sometimes absent. The thrust of the song is how hard the woman worked to make herself beautiful, only to spoil it by losing her virginity.
To show how difficult it is to classify all this, 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)."
Many, including Randolph, Ritchie, and Roud, simply lump the whole business as versions of "The Seeds of Love."
Child prints a text (additions and corrections to "The Gardener", p. 258 in Volume V of the Dover edition) which conflates this song, or something similar, with that ballad. - RBW
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