Origanum (Ornamental Oregano)
Some oreganos are meant to savor and season foods while others are meant to admire. Originating in areas around the Mediterranean Basin, both types have identical cultural needs and do well in Sonoma County with its similar climate.
Of the many ornamental oregano species and cultivars, some develop into subshrubs—soft-stemmed perennials with a woody base—while others are clump-forming perennials with erect or trailing, wiry stems. All types attract bees and butterflies from late spring to autumn.
- Pink to purple blossoms are attractive, fragrant, and nectar-filled.
- After dying back, flowering stems can be pruned to the ground in late winter; in early spring the growth cycle begins again.
- Non-culinary oreganos have lower water requirements than culinary varieties.
- They like full sun and poor to moderately fertile soil with exceptionally good drainage.
- Once established they need very little water and can be killed if over-watered or over-fertilized.
- Ornamental oreganos make excellent plants for water-wise gardening.
Oregano species differ in growth habits from 6 in. high and 12 in. wide to nearly 3 ft. in height and width. Check nursery tags when purchasing to determine size and recommended planting sites.
- Oreganos can be planted in containers, as sprawling groundcovers, and as front-of-the-border plants in perennial beds.
- Because they have wispy stems, ornamental oreganos are suitable for hanging baskets, for cascading over walls, or romping around rocks.
- Sites in full sun promote heaviest flowering; blooms are sparser in partial shade.
- Plants resent soggy conditions in winter or excess moisture at any time. Where drainage is poor, plant oreganos on raised mounds.
Selected Species and Cultivars
When selecting an ornamental oregano, determine in advance whether a compact sub-shrub species or one with long trailing stems suits your intended planting site.
- Origanum laevigatum ‘Hopley’s’ stands erect on woody-based stems 24 to 36 inches high when given support.
- Lacking support, long stems flop over and becomes rangy in beds but cascade attractively over low walls.
- Stems lying on moist ground may root as they sprawl, but remain under control when plants are heavily mulched.
- ‘Hopley’s’ has small, dark green leaves and panicle-like, deep pink-to-purple flowers at stem ends.
- Stems are excellent for cutting, especially when added to an aromatic bouquet.
- ‘Herrenhausen’ is similar with reddish purple leaves but with larger lilac-pink flower clusters.
- Origanum rotundifolium‘Kent Beauty’ is more compact than the sprawling ‘Hopley’s,’ reaching only 4-12 in. high and 12 in. across.
- Blossoms also form on stem ends, but pale green, prostrate and trailing stems are shorter and the entire plant is denser.
- Deep rose bracts encircle small pale pink to mauve flowers suggestive of colorful and papery cones or blossoms on hop vines.
- The small size is suited to the front of a border or retaining wall, among rocks, in hanging baskets, and in other containers.
- Origanum dictamnus, dittany of Crete, has a similar appearance to ‘Kent Beauty’ despite its overall larger form.
- Wiry stems bear thick, felty foliage, and pink-to-purple blossoms extend beyond a panicle of greenish bracts.
- Excellent drainage in needed for sensitive roots.
(For information on culinary oreganos, see “Oregano & Marjoram” under Food Gardening Articles on the Master Gardener web page.)