Round Robin: Growing Oregano Varieties

Notes from regional herb gardeners: Andy Van Hevelingen tells of his new border plants-- three varieties of oregano from Holland.

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Newberg, Oregon—For the past few months, we have had a frequent and uninvited visitor to our fenced backyard herb garden: an extremely large, extremely bold black and white rabbit. No doubt, it was at one time someone’s pet. We first discovered it on our deck exploring the flower boxes. The fence seems to be no hindrance as it comes and goes whenever it pleases. Our children huddle around the window to watch it hop along, ears upright for any sign of danger and then back down to nibble. We couldn’t make out what he was eating, but when my wife discovered three treasured dianthus plants looking like mowed grass, she had some unpleasant things to say about the darned rabbit. Five-year-old Thomas looked at the plants and then asked, “So you don’t like the rabbit anymore?” Melissa laughed but wondered what else the rabbit might have tasted.

I’m just glad that my new oreganos from Holland were out of the rabbit’s way. Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’, ‘Rot­kugel’, and ‘Erntedank’ are all pretty hybrid selections that start blooming late in the summer and continue until hard frost—late October here in Oregon. All require full sun and good drainage. They are only about a foot high when in bloom, so I keep them at the front of the border. It is hard to choose a favorite. ‘Rosenkuppel’, the most readily available of the three, is much more compact than the better-known ‘Herrenhausen’ or ‘Hopleys’ but has the same very dark purple calyxes and minute dark pink corollas. Dense, ball-shaped flower clusters contrast well with the large, dark green rounded leaves and purple stems. ‘Rotkugel’ forms a mound 15 inches high and produces similar ball-shaped flower clusters with even darker purple calyxes and corollas that are slightly larger and darker pink than those of ‘Rosenkuppel’. I like the hint of blue in ‘Erntedank”s loosely bushy foliage; its flower spikes are open and elongated like those of ‘Herrenhausen’, and the individual flowers are a lovely deep lilac with deeper pink outlining the outer edge. All three are hardy to Zone 5, and all stand up well to a lot of winter rainfall.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed Santolina ‘Small Ness’. After a year, it is still only about 5 inches tall and wide, and I have to be careful not to step on it when I am weeding. It reportedly has the typical yellow button flowers, but my plant has yet to bloom. I’m satisfied with its minute, wiry, dark green leaves. This would be a great choice for a trough garden or a model railroad garden or perhaps the world’s smallest knot garden.