December 4, 2003 at 1:35 p.m.
The genus origanum contains 36 species, many of which are of Mediterranean origin. True culinary oregano, the kind you put on your pizza, is also called Greek oregano. Many of the oreganos grown for ornamental purposes come from the origanum lavigatum. This species lacks many of the essential oils that make the others flavorful. However, like its culinary cousins, it does have aromatic foliage that releases a pungent scent if you rub it or brush up against it. It has small, oval shaped, dark green leaves, and grows 18 to 24 inches tall. It has clusters of purple flowers that appear all summer. Deadheading will increase flowering and this plant will bloom from July until frost. The flowers will attract many bees and butterflies.
Lynn Meyer writes that sometimes the plant is literally moving with them. The flowers are also good with both fresh and dried arrangements. After frost the remaining seed heads are attractive and continue into winter.
The origanum laevigatum is classified as a subshrub. It has a woody base that still dies back to the ground in the fall. Although it belongs to the invasive mint family, it forms a clump and spreads slowly. It prefers a sunny site that is well drained with slightly gravelly soil, but adapts to most garden soils. It does best with poor to moderate fertility and slightly alkaline conditions. It is also highly drought tolerant and heat resistant.
There are several cultivars of this plant now available. Herrenhausen and Rosekuppel are generally available in this area. These two are listed as tender perennials, but Lynn has not had trouble with winter damage. They both appear to be disease and insect free. Be sure that you check the information on some of these other cultivars so they are appropriate for your garden.
Now when I think of oregano, I can think of it as more than pizza. Instead, it can have aromatic, ornamental perennial, which is complimentary to other plants, and attracts butterflies and bees.