Oregano: Aromatic, Attractive and Easy!
By Sandy Metzger, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Some oreganos are meant to admire, some are meant to savor and season. I like both kinds, but two of my favorites for garden design purposes are Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and O. laevigatum ‘Hopley’s’. At a glance, you wouldn’t even know they’re related, but stick your nose in them for a good whiff, and you’ll declare, “Ahhh, yes, oregano!”
‘Kent Beauty’ is short, prostrate, and trailing. It can be planted at the front of the border or retaining wall, among rocks, in hanging baskets and other containers. Its leaves are a bright green, and the pale pink to mauve flowers are held by papery dark rose bracts. It’s sweet looking. Friends who have seen it insist on knowing its name and having it!
But ‘Hopley’s’ is entirely different in its physical form. It stands erect on woody-based stems 24 to 36 inches high. It has darker green leaves and loose panicle-like whorls of flowers which are deep pink to purple.
Originating in the Mediterranean area, both oreganos have identical cultural needs and do well here in Sonoma County with its similar climate. How easy can this be? They like full sun, poor to moderately fertile soil that’s neutral or slightly alkaline with exceptionally good drainage. Both are insect-attracting perennials that bloom from late spring into autumn. They die back, you cut them down in late winter, and the cycle begins again. Both are mildly clump-forming but not at all in an aggressive way.
Once established, they need very little water. In fact, you can kill both with kindness: too much water and too much fertilizer. They can develop crown rot if the water doesn’t drain away, and the ‘Hopley’s’ can get too tall, rangy, and flop over if you’re too good to it. Both make excellent plants for water-wise gardening. They are extremely attractive, long-blooming, fragrant, and attract bees and other beneficial insects. ‘Hopley’s’ is excellent for cutting, especially if you’re creating an aromatic bouquet of rosemary, lavender, two or three salvias, artemesia, santolina, and such. If you don’t already have these Oreganos in your garden, you’ll wonder why not!
© Sonoma County Master Gardeners