For me, Monarda or Bee Balm has always seemed like a flower that is having a bad hair day.
At best it looks a bit disheveled, and at worst, it can look like a complete mess.
Flowers with the first flush of youth
This is wild Monarda at dusk in a nearby park...
Now looking a bit worse for wear!
Blooms now spent, the bald flower heads are ready to set seed.
So why do I have flowers that can sometimes downright unattractive in my garden?
It is simple: butterflies, bees and hummingbirds simply adore it and that is a good enough recommendation for me.
I never cease to thrill when I see a hummingbird flitting among these bright red mopheads.
In my back garden, Monarda seems to have a mind of its own. It doesn't always show up where I place it. Instead sets off on road trips, spreading to wherever it finds is a favourable spot.
This spreading habit could be a problem, but I find it relatively easy to yank it out whenever it migrates to a spot I don't want it.
(In my research for this post, I came across a reference that suggests that Monarda planted in part shade is more prone to a spreading habit and is less likely to flower profusely. Thinking about it, I have noted that it tends to clump more densely in sun than shade.)
Monarda, Bee Balm in the Healing Garden of Bethesda
United Church near Hamilton, ON
For most gardeners, Monarda's long history of medicinal use by Native North Americans is just an interesting footnote. The leaves when crushed exude a spicy, highly fragrant oil that has antiseptic properties. (Bee Balm is a natural source of Thymol which is the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwashes).
All I know is that I love the scent of the leaves as I work amongst the plants!
Monarda 'Raspberrry Wine' Height: 90-120 cm Spread: 60-75 cm Resistant to Powdery Mildew, Sun/Part Shade Mauve flowers in July and August.
Monarda also has culinary uses and apparently tastes like a mix between mint and oregano. One of these days when I am feeling a bit adventurous, I would like to brew a pot of tea using its leaves, but for now, my experiments have been limited to trying out different colored cultivars.
'Raspberry Wine' is one of my early favourites. It is a bit taller than the common red Monarda and has wonderful maroon flowers.
I also have a soft mauve flower (Monarda didyma 'Panorama Mix') which seems to be struggling a bit in the half-shade of the back garden and may need to be moved to a sunnier location.
Recently, I discovered a patch of similarly colored wild Monarda (Monarda fistulosa) growing in a local park. Even though its foliage was covered in mildew, it was quite beautiful (pictured above).
Monarda 'Marshall's Delight' Height: 75-120 cm Spread: 60-75 cm Resistant to Powdery Mildew, Sun/Part Shade Mauve flowers in July and August.
My 'Marshall's Delight' has been crowded out by other plants and also needs a new home. The flowers on this cultivar are a great shade of hot pink. Here is a better picture in another garden:
Monarda 'Marshall's Delight' in a private garden in Hamilton, ON
Monarda 'Petite Delight' Height: 30 cm with a compact habit, Spread: 45 cm, Resistant to Powdery Mildew, Sun/Part Shade, Mauve-Pink flowers in July and August.
Monarda, 'Grand Parade' Seen here in the half-shade of a private Hamilton area garden
Monarda, 'Grand Parade' is a mid-sized Canadian selection. Height: 40-45 cm Spread: 50-60 cm Resistant to Powdery Mildew, Sun/Part Shade, Mauve flowers in July and August.
This is Monarda 'Coral Reef' Height: 90-100 cm Spread: 60-90 cm Resistant to Powdery Mildew, Sun/Part Shade Coral pink flowers in July and August.
I find the lower leaves on my Monarda drop off leaving bare flower stems, so it is good to hide its rather ugly legs with shorter perennials. Companion plants blooming at the same time might include:
Catmint, Nepeta ' Walker's Low'
Dwarf Calamint, Calamintha nepeta
Phlox- although be careful which variety you choose as a companion plant beacuse both phlox and Monarda are prone to mildew.
Even though it has a flower that sometimes looks like it is in desperate need of a comb
Monarda is one plant I can't imagine being without.
My garden alphabet so far: 'A' is for Astilbe, 'B' is for Butterfly, Three 'C's, 'D' is for Delphinium, The Letters 'E' and 'F' , 'G' is for Geranium , 'H' is for Hollyhocks, 'I' is for Iris , 'J' is for Jacob's Ladder, I am skipping K for now because I am stumped for a 'K', 'L' is for Lobelia and now 'M' is for Monarda.
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