Oh, Those Oreganos!

Why do I love the oreganos? Because some are meant to be admired, some are meant to savor and season. When walking through the garden, I brush up against an oregano or pull the leaves off a stem, and the fragrance causes me to let out an inadvertent, audible Mmmm. I like all kinds, but two of my favorites are Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and O. laevigatum ‘Hopley’s’. At a glance, you wouldn’t even know they’re related, but your nose immediately recognizes that distinctive oregano odor.     ‘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, too! 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 because of that, do well 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 all of them 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. Here’s another one I’m going to throw in because it’s quite beautiful, Mexican oregano, as tall as Hopley’s but with an almost electric blue flower.  All 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 them in your garden, you’ll wonder why not!


About writersandy

Writer, Gardener, Crafter
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