Sunday, July 30, 2017

My Herbs - part 2 - Sage and Oregano


I don't have a lot of success with most sages.  My first sage, planted in 2012, grew into a large bushy plant which survived for four years. That's actually average for sage, which becomes woody, with fewer leaves after three or four years.  I was sorry to see it go, and have yet to grow another to this degree of success. 

sage - 2015

In 2014 I got a pineapple sage and planted it in a terracotta pot at the head of the herb garden.  It never amounted to much, and I gave it up for dead a year ago.  I dug it out of the pot (it was dormant) and noticed it wasn't dead-dead, so put it in another container, expecting nothing.  It grew...

pineapple sage - 2014

and grew... until this spring I planted it in the center of my butterfly garden rounds. 

Now, sage is another of those Mediterranean herbs, you know, those herbs that crave well-drained but nutrient poor soil. Those that thrive in even rocky soils where little else grows.  Guess what?  My butterfly garden soil is anything but poor!   It's Gardner & Bloome raised bed soil, full of rich compost and plant nummies like bat guano and kelp.  Definitely not what pineapple sage needs in order to bloom.  So, I have a humongous healthy plant, with not a single flower bud in sight!

pineapple sage - 2017
Now, it's a pretty plant compared to when it was in the terracotta, as you can see.  But, take a look at those bight red flowers!  And take a close look at the second photo below,  there is a  hummingbird drinking nectar from the flowers!  THAT is why I have a pineapple sage in the butterfly garden... for the butterflies, bees and birds.  But, I forgot the first love of Mediterranean herbs... poor soil forces them to put out flowers.  It also makes them taste better. 

My tri-color sage never took off.  It was planted in 2015, and now this is what I have this summer.  A few leaves on the end of bare sticks.

tri-color sage

The golden sage is only a few months old, so there is still hope for a nice plant.

golden sage

Now, the sages already mentioned are culinary sages, salvia officinalis, but a sage is a salvia and a salvia is a sage.  Usually the word "sage" is used for the herb we eat (I do) or use medicinally (I don't), and "salvia" for the ornamental annuals and perennials.  I do have salvias in both containers on my deck (annual), and two new ones in containers for the butterfly garden (perennial), Radio Red and Ultra Violet Radio Red was introduced in 2015.  Ultra Violet is a natural (thank you hummingbirds!) dwarf hybrid discovered in Colorado in 2002.  Both are autumn sages, and will bloom into the fall season. 


Salvia greggii 'Radio Red'

Salvia greggii 'Ultra Violet'

For the annual salvias I break off the flowering stems as the flowers die back, and it forms new flowers.  These salvias are easy to find in spring, and I buy the 6-packs.

None of these sages or salvias can be smoked!  Actually, I do not recommend smoking any salvia (or any "herb" for that matter!), but there is a Mexican native salvia that is psychoactive. Mine are purely culinary and ornamental!  Plus the pollinators love it, so it's an asset to any garden.  


Oregano is yet again a Mediterranean herb!  A lover of sun, and poor dry soil (well-drained), there are many kinds of oregano, some culinary, some more ornamental, although even those can be used in cooking.  

My oregano collection (if you can call three a collection) began with what was supposed to be Amethyst Falls in 2012, one of the original herbs in the herb garden.  I say it was supposed to be, because the flowers are nothing like Amethyst Falls'.  Now that it is growing among another oregano received in trade for used homeschooling books (and a mint plant or two), it's hard to tell where one begins and the other stops.  One has slightly darker leaves.  Oddly, there is a plant label that reads, "Greek Mountain Oregano" stuck in the bed.  Am I mistaken about having the Amethyst Falls in the first place?  Now I want one!  

At any rate, most people will harvest the oregano leaves before it flowers, but I leave it for the pollinators.  It also self seeds, and this year I had baby oregano plants popping up in the paths around the herb garden.  I transplanted one to a terracotta with Foxley thyme.  Bees and other small pollinators love oregano! 

oregano blossoms in June
 Oregano dies back in late summer and starts afresh in early spring.  

oregano in the herb garden in April
After it flowers it becomes all stem with spent blossoms.  To keep a neat garden bed it's necessary to cut them back to the ground.

oregano in July, showing where I started to cut back

One ornamental oregano is Golden oregano, Origanum vulgare 'Aureum.'  I have it in a front yard bed, with Tuscan Blue rosemary and Munstead lavender (the two rockroses died).  It's hard to believe how small it started, and how quickly it spread!  It's the tiny bright green clump in the upper left.  Actually, everything here grew at a tremendous rate, even the rockroses, which only lasted four years. 

Golden oregano and Munstead lavender - July 2017
 I should be able to propagate the oreganos, but so far I've had no luck rooting them in water.  

Stay tuned for lavender!  I do have quite a collection started! 

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