'Kent Beauty' Oregano
"Herbs spring forth,
Whose fragrance, by soft dews & rain unbound,
Shall penetrate the heart without a wound."
Many different kinds of oreganos form beautiful sub-shrubs or groundcovers, but none ever struck me as truly awesome until I encountered Origanum rotundifolium x scabrum 'Kent Beauty' which just floored me. Later I discovered it likewise impressed the Royal Botanical Society, who gave it the Award of Garden Merit.
It is a semi-trailing, semi-mounding groundcover with endearing grey-green silver-veined oval to nearly heart shaped leaves. The flowers are quite something in summer & autumn, appearing in great numbers. They are at first mauve but age to a bright pink & purple.
These blooms consist of pink-petaled flowers inside dusty-purple bracts that make the flowers look larger than they really are, & possess a surprising iridescence that seems as though it ought to glow purple in the dark. Even when there are no flowers present, the bracts are year-round pastels that give the impression of perpetual blossom.
When these bracts have turned completely pink they have by then dried into color-fast paperiness right on the plant, though they don't really look like they've dried. These will last a great length of time. The dried bracts are additionally useful in floral arrangements for lasting beauty.
It can be a tender perennial that might behave as an annual if winter is particularly cold, therefore, depending on your zone, 'Kent Beauty' may call for the sunniest wind-protected area if it is to come back each year. For mild winters like ours, however, it doesn't actually die back until winter's end or when new growth begins, so that it gives the impression of being evergreen. Still, whatever of the plant makes it to the start of spring should be pruned away before new growth begins, & it should also be fertilized at that time (though it requires very little feeding).
We planted it in multiple places. One of these clumps gets perhaps a bit too much shade for its perfect liking, as it is slow to recover after winter damage. Nevertheless, by July, even this bright-shade planting is looking gorgeous. It is not a plant that needs much water, & in this location it does get a bit damp as ferns grow nearby, but drainage is perfect, so it flourishes.
I note the success of this clump because it's not even close to the ideal for 'Kent's Beauty.' The worst that can be said though, is that it has a weakened spring condition & fewer of the pink tubular flowers, but is still rather impressive dangling from a ledge on the shade-garden's periphery.
The other clumps get strong sunlight most of the day. Two clumps are even in very tough rarely watered areas that'd test the staying power of most plants, but they thrive. The semi-prostrate trailing clumps continue to thicken up through the summer, with fantastic beauty at least through early winter, until the worst winter weather begins to wreck their looks a bit.
It is not impossible that it can mound to over a foot tall & need a bit of shearing. But generally it will creep around the ground staying around six or eight inches tall, with a two-foot trailing spread quite likely. We've planted it to cascade from rock ledges & it'd be just as nice spilling over the sides of hanging baskets.
It's drought tolerant for window boxes or containers, or can make do in poor soil areas of a garden. In colder climates that make it a bit tender, a window box that gets residual heat through the window just might be good for it. It survives a lot of neglect, but it will not bloom so well unless it gets moderate watering in rich well-drained soil in full sun. Clumps can be divided every two or three years to keep it fresh, early spring being the best time.
Often said to be ornamental rather than culinary, if a little bitterness is liked it is perfectly acceptable for cooking. Its also sweet smelling enough to dry for potpourri.
See also the very similar ornamental oregano:
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