7 Types of Oregano for Herb and Ornamental Gardens

There are around 40 species of Origanum. Some are valued for their taste and aroma, others for their medicinal properties and still others for their ornamental features. Some have a combination of all these attributes.

They are native to the Mediterranean and Eurasia growing in rocky soils. Some grow in mounds while others have upright growth, and all dislike soggy soils and poor air circulation.

Seven types of Origanum plants (Oregano)

For this article, I have selected 7 of the most versatile and common ones that are easily available commercially. They are all quite hardy and drought-tolerant which are characteristics that I seek when selecting plants that can survive in the extreme conditions of our changing climate.

I will describe each Oregano plant individually and then compare them in terms of size, shape, hardiness, drought tolerance and blooming times. I use lots of images so that you can easily see what they look like. The information in this article will surely help you select the best Oreganos for your garden.

But before that, you may also grab some free drought-tolerant plant guides.

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Varieties of Oregano

Origanum plants are mostly native to the Mediterranean basin and Eurasia where they are adapted to grow in full sun and poor, well-drained soils. This makes them an ideal choice for a Mediterranean garden style.

They are drought-tolerant, hardy and can tolerate most types of soils, from acid to mildly alkaline.

These robust plants can be very diverse:

  • Foliage can vary from grey to dark green.
  • Flowers can come in shades of pink, purple and white.
  • Habit can vary from mounding to upright.
  • Maximum size can range from small (10 cm / 0.3 ft) to quite tall (80 cm / 2.6 ft).

Origanum vulgare (Common Oregano)

Origanum vulgare, also known as Oregano, Common Oregano or Wild Majoram, is a semi-evergreen, aromatic, low-growing herbaceous perennial with a woody base that has a spreading habit forming a small dense ground cover.

The leaves are small and green. The flowers are usually pink but can also be light purple or white, depending on the subspecies, and appear in clusters arranged in panicles during the summer.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers, beds and borders. In rock or gravel gardens, aromatic or seaside gardens.

It is well known for its culinary and medicinal uses.

Origanum vulgare (Common Oregano)
  • Height: 5 to 10 cm (0.2 to 0.3 ft) and 50 cm (1.6 ft) when in flower
  • Width: 40 – 50 cm (1.3 – 1.6 ft)
  • Hardiness: -15º C (5 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 3 months
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Origin: Europe, North Africa and most of Asia

Learn more about this herb in the detailed description of Common Oregano.

Origanum majorana (Marjoram)

Origanum majorana, also known as Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram, is a semi-evergreen, aromatic, small herbaceous perennial that forms a compact mound.

The leaves are grey-green to grey, and the flowers are usually white, appearing in clusters arranged in a panicle along the erect stems. Before blooming, the clusters of flower buds look like knots, hence the name “knotted marjoram”.

Marjoram is widely cultivated as a herb and also appreciated as an ornamental plant due to its dense mounding habit and fragrance. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

Marjoram is a popular herb, known for its sweet and mild flavour and has also been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties.

Origanum majorana (Marjoram)
  • Height: 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft)
  • Width: 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft)
  • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun / Semi shade
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Turkey and Cyprus)

Learn more about this plant in the detailed description of the Marjoram.

Origanum onites (Pot Marjoram)

Origanum onites, has several common names, including Pot Marjoram, Cretan Oregano, Greek Oregano or Turkish Oregano.

A semi-evergreen, aromatic, herbaceous perennial that forms a bushy clump of erect stems adorned with lance-shaped, fuzzy green leaves and topped with clusters of tiny white flowers arranged like a corymb-like form.

Pot Marjoram is a widely cultivated herb but is also appreciated as an ornamental plant due to its dense rounded habit and fragrance. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

Marjoram is a popular herb, known for its sharp peppery flavour and a fragrance similar to thyme. It has also been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties.

Origanum onites (Pot Marjoram)
  • Height: 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)
  • Width: 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)
  • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Bloom time: Spring, Summer
  • Origin: Eastern Mediterranean Region (from Sicily to Turkey)

Learn more about this plant in the detailed description of Pot Marjoram.

Origanum laevigatum (Smooth Lavender)

Origanum laevigatum, is often referred to as Smooth Oregano or Ornamental Oregano. A fragrant, semi-evergreen herbaceous perennial with small dark green leaves that create a dense and low-growing ground cover. Rising above the foliage are tall, slender spikes of purplish-pink flowers adorned with maroon bracts.

This plant is cultivated worldwide for its admired ornamental value. A sculptural presence with its long wirey flower stems and forming a dense year-round ground cover in milder climates. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

This plant is mainly used as an ornamental and for crafts. It´s not very appreciated for culinary and medicinal uses.

Origanum laevigatum (Smooth Oregano)
  • Height: 10 cm (0.3 ft)  and 50cm (1.6 ft) with flower
  • Width: 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)
  • Hardiness: -12º C (10º F)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun / Semi shade
  • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Origin: Eastern Mediterranean Region (Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus)

Learn more about this plant in this detailed description of Smooth Oregano.

Origanum syriacum (Syrian Oregano)

Origanum syriacum, is a herb known by different names such as Syrian Oregano, Za’atar, Bible Hyssop and Lebanese Oregano.

It´s a very fragrant, evergreen perennial herb with an upright rigid form, densely packed with velvety grey-green leaves. At the tips of the stems, clusters of tiny white flowers are arranged in branching panicles.

Syrian Oregano is a versatile plant that adds a lot of interest to your garden with its lovely velvety grey-grey foliage, its wiry flower panicles and its dense upright shape. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

Syrian Oregano is considered to be one of the tastiest oregano herbs. It is the main ingredient of the spice mixture called za’atar and this is why the plant itself is also called za’atar. It has also been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties.

Origanum syriacum (Syrian Oregano)
  • Height: 60 to 80 cm (1 to 2.6 ft)
  • Width: 50cm (1.6 ft)
  • Hardiness: -8º C (17 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun / Semi shade
  • Drought tolerance: Approx 5 months
  • Bloom time: Summer, Autumn
  • Origin: from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Peninsula

Learn more about this plant in this detailed description of the Syrian Oregano.

Origanum dictamnus (Dittany of Crete)

Origanum dictamnus, commonly known as Dittany of Crete or Hop Marjoram,  is a small aromatic herbaceous perennial with a spreading cushion form.

Its arching stems are covered with evergreen woolly silvery leaves and end with hanging clusters of small pink flowers surrounded by overlapping bracts that range in colour from green to red-purple, resembling hops.

Dittany of Crete is a very interesting addition to any garden due to its velvety soft silvery leaves and colourful hop-like flower heads. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

Dittany of crete is not a very popular culinary herb worldwide but it is used as a condiment in its native land, Crete. It has also been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties.

Origanum dictamnus (Dittany of Crete)
  • Height: 10 cm (0.3 ft), 20cm (0.6ft) with flower
  • Width:  20 to 40 cm (0.6 to 1.2 ft)
  • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun / Semi shade
  • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Origin: Mediterranean Basin ( Island of Crete in Greece)

Learn more about this plant in the detailed description of Dittany of Crete.

Origanum rotundifolium (Round-leaved Oregano)

Origanum rotundifolium, commonly known as Round-leaved Oregano, is a small aromatic, woody-based herbaceous perennial with a spreading cushion form.

Its arching stems are covered with rounded grey leaves and end with hanging clusters of small white or pale pink flowers surrounded by overlapping pale yellowish-green bracts, resembling hops.

Round-leaved Oregano is a very interesting addition to any garden due to its cushion shape and graceful, drooping hop-like flower heads, which form a lovely cascading effect. It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In containers or beds. In rock and gravel gardens or aromatic gardens. 

This plant is mainly used as an ornamental and for crafts. It´s not very appreciated for culinary and medicinal uses.

Origanum rotundifolium (Round-leaved Oregano)
  • Height: 10 cm (0.3 ft), 20cm (0.6ft) with flower
  • Width: Width 20 to 30 cm (0.6 to 1 ft)
  • Hardiness: -15º C (5º F)
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Origin: from the East Mediterranean to the West Tanscauscus region (Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia).

Learn more about this plant in this detailed description of Round-leaved Oregano.

What do Oreganos look like?

Origanum (Oregano) comparison chart

All Oregano inflorescences form a spike. In most species these form a panicle with multiple branched stems, with the exception of Pot Marjoram where the spikes grow in a convex or flat-topped corymb.

The flower colour can be purple, pink, or white. The calyx can be bell-shaped (like O. vulgare) or tubular (like O. laevigatum).

Origanum plants have bracts, that surround the flowers and in some cases the bracts are so beautiful and colourful that they are mistaken for the flower which is actually hidden behind the bracts. In some species, like O. rotundifolium and O. dictamnus the bracts overlap and look like hops.

The leaves are quite varied. They can have different shapes such as round, oval and heart-shaped. They can be shiny and smooth or soft and hairy. Their colour can range from grey to grey-green to dark green.

The scientific name sometimes describes the leaf, for example O. rotundifolium means round leaf and O. laevigatum means smooth leaf.

Stems are usually hairy, can be upright or spreading, and in some cases woody at the base.

The size and habit are also quite diverse, from small to quite tall and rounded to upright.

In the chart, you may see how the different parts of the selected Oreganos compare.

Height and Width of Oregano plants

Origanum (Oregano) height and width chart

The height and width of Oregano plants can be varied from small spreading types, such as Origanum dictamnus and O. rotundifolium, to quite tall ones, like O. syriacum. However, the plant size will vary based on the weather, sun exposure, soil and fertilization. So you may end up with different sizes than those shown in the chart.

The habit can also vary from rounded to upright.

Oregano bloom times

Origanum (Oregano) bloom time chart

Origanum plants will bloom mostly in the summer. Some types start a little earlier than others, and the duration of the bloom time also varies a little.

Many factors affect flowering, such as temperature, sunlight availability, and soil fertility, so slight variations may depend on your garden´s environment.

But generally, the bloom times for the 7 selected species in this article are shown on the chart.

Oregano cold hardiness compared

Origanum (Oregano) cold hardiness chart

The hardiest Oreganos from my selection are Origanum vulgare and Origanum rotundifolium.

However, most of the selected Oreganos will be quite hardy if you give them the right growing conditions, such as well-drained soil and little or no fertilization. They will only suffer in very wet and cold winters.

In this article, I have selected cold-hardy types because I always try to choose the plants better adapted to weather extremes that we face with climate change.

Nevertheless, some Oreganos are naturally tougher than others. Depending on your climate, you may choose the best ones for your garden based on the hardiness chart shown here.

If you select a type that is tender in your region then you may need to plant the oregano in pots so you can move it to a sheltered place in the winter.

Which is the most drought-tolerant Oregano?

Origanum (Oregano) drought-tolerance chart

Oreganos are quite tough plants that can survive hot and dry weather for long periods and remain evergreen with showy blooms.

Although all the selected oreganos are drought-tolerant, some are incredibly resistant to drought, such as Marjoram and Syrian Oregano.

The chart uses the drought-tolerance code defined by Olivier Filippi (https://jardin-sec.com/), which I find very useful and have found to be correct based on my own experience.

Which is the best Oregano for cooking?

The best Oregano for cooking will depend on your personal taste and the intended use in the kitchen. Some have a milder and sweeter flavour such as Origanum majorana which is also known as “sweet marjoram”. Others are have a more spicy and strong flavour such as O. vulgare.

However, although oreganos are usually associated with culinary uses, the most commonly used oreganos in cooking are O. vulgare (Common Oregano), O. onites (pot marjoram), O. majorana (sweet marjoram), O. dictamnus (dittany of Crete) and O. syriacum (Za’atar).

Which is the best Oregano for your garden?

This is the question that I hope to answer with all the information provided in this article. The best Oregano will be different for different people and different environments.

While you cannot change some conditions, such as the size and hardiness of the plant, others you can adjust, like soil and watering.

Steps to choose the best oregano for you

  • Check if the oregano is hardy enough for your climate. If not, then you need to shelter it or select a different one.
  • Check if you have poor, well-drained soil. If not, see if you can adjust it with raised beds or plant it in pots.
  • Check if the size and shape are appropriate for the spot you want to plant in your garden.
  • Check if your climate can support the water needs for the oregano. If not, plan to water in extreme drought and heat.

If you follow these steps, you will find the right oregano for you.

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