A Monarda Moment

In mid-summer the Monardas take center stage in the Sidewalk Border. The blue and purple salvias retain a bit of color, but are mostly done. The ‘Husker Red’ Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) and golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) have been cut back. Now come the Monardas in red, lavender, and purple (yes, purple).

'Raspberry Wine' bee balm
‘Raspberry Wine’ bee balm

The Monarda that demands your attention first is ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Monarda didyma), with its enormous red flowers. This Monarda reminds me of certain  relatives whose normal speaking voice is a shout – but they are so entertaining you love them anyway.

Bumblebees like Monardas.
Bumblebees like Monardas.

Monardas are members of the mint family, and ‘Raspberry Wine’ is a particularly vigorous grower. However, I just pull out the stems if it pokes up where it is not wanted. Like other Monardas, it is beloved by bees and butterflies.

Wild Bergamot
Wild Bergamot

If  ‘Raspberry Wine’ is a happy shout, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a soothing murmur. This is a wild species Monarda with much smaller flowers that come in a calm lavender-blue.

Good companions.
Good companions.

Wild bergamot (an ingredient in Earl Gray tea) does not compete as energetically as ‘Raspberry Wine’ and other varieties of M. didyma (bee balm).

A view of the Sidewalk Border.
A view of the Sidewalk Border. Oh, and the neighbors just put their house up for sale. Any garden bloggers in the market?

Even so, I think the two are good companions – both the contrasting colors and heights look good to me.

'Purple Rooster' bee balm
‘Purple Rooster’ bee balm

I have another Monarda growing in the Island Bed, behind the Sidewalk Border. This is ‘Purple Rooster’, a more compact variety (though by no means a dwarf, mine grows 3-4′) of M. Didyma.

Looking the other way.
Looking the other way.

Powdery mildew is the biggest complaint most people have about Monardas. ‘Raspberry Wine’ is supposed to be resistant. However, by late August the leaves of all my Monardas are infected. I’ve decided to just ignore it, and switch my attention to the asters and goldenrods that are coming into bloom.

Monardas like moist soil, but I’ve found wild bergamot to be more adaptable.

Swamp Milkweed
Swamp Milkweed

In this part of the garden the Monardas share the stage with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). The pink-red of the species are still opening, and you can sometimes catch a whiff of the vanilla scent.

Switchgrass and Monardas
Switchgrass and Monardas

The big grasses also are coming into their own now. Switchgrass ‘Northwind’ (Panicum virgatum) is not yet blooming, but its tall upright leaves and stems add some dignity to the proceedings.

Northern sea oats.
Northern sea oats.

Also, the seedheads of northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is starting to form. At this stage they seem like bits of green confetti dangling from fishing lines.

'Mr. Banana'
‘Mr. Banana’

On the other side of the sidewalk, the daylilies are what you notice right now in the parkway plantings. In particular, there is an enormous banana yellow daylily whose name I cannot remember. It was actually a freebie that came with a shipment I ordered from Oakes Daylilies. Since I can’t be sure of the cultivar name, I have come up with my own private name for the big fella: ‘Mr. Banana’.

Are the Monardas blooming in your garden?


61 Comments on “A Monarda Moment

  1. Indeed they are! I have bright red ones. I have no idea what the name is, but in addition to bees and butterflies, they also attract hummingbirds. 🙂

  2. Jason. They are just lovely. Mine are a bit behind you. Looking at your blog is looking into the future for me. LOL. I like your reddish one. Mine is more purple.

  3. You’ve got the “always something in bloom” concept down!! I think we all attempt this, but you’ve done the right research and bought the right plants. Your gardens are really special!

  4. Hi Jason, I love your monardas I wish I could grow them, but they need more water than I can give them. A small correction, the Bergamont in Earl Grey tea is actually. Citrus plant of the same name. It is easy to be confused by this, I was too for a while.

  5. It is lovely to see just what Monardas can do, and what a fantastic statement they can make. Mine are always disappointing and I, perhaps wrongly, blame our damp English climate, as they often get fungal/ mouldy type diseases and don’t thrive as they should. Yours look splendid.

  6. What a statement they really make Jason. I love those sidewalk borders you all have over there. I do wonder if I’d get away with digging out some of the pavement (sidewalk) here. I doubt it!!
    Monardas are just about to bloom here and mines are just not a patch on your beautiful healthy specimens. They really did deserve their own post!

    • I didn’t dig out the sidewalk, but the grass along the sidewalk and between the sidewalk and street. Most people like it, though I know one lady who is convinced some kind of wild animal is going to jump out at her from the greenery.

  7. LOVELY! what blooms. Are Monardas bee balm? I have those blooming now in my garden for the first time, not sure if they are the same thing. They are kind of all over the place. I love your combination of plants.

    • Yes, bee balm is Monarda didyma. There are some related flowers in the Monarda genus, like wild bergamot and horse mint.

  8. I have an old, old red one that someone gave me so long ago that I don’t even remember who it was. They always signal the midway point of summer for me so I’m never in any hurry to see them, but I like their color in the garden.

  9. Interesting to note the unexpected difference in our bloom times. Here in south central Kansas, my wild bergamot just finished blooming a week or so ago. It was an excellent year for it! I love the 3 different Monardas that you’ve incorporated.

    This spring I had a new (to me) Monarda that bloomed for me, Bradbury Monarda or Monarda bradburiana. It bloomed about the same time as the Husker Red penstemon and dames rocket. While the flowers are attractive, what I find I’m really loving is the shiny foliage which is purplish when young and turns a wonderful burgundy in the fall. I wonder whether it would suffer from mildew or not?

  10. I’m growing a couple of Monardas I will have in my blog later this weekend, Monarda citriodora and punctata. I started them from seed last fall. So far they have no mildew. I’m also growing Asclepias tuberosa, but it returned really late for its second year and I don’t know if there is any chance it will bloom or not. I really like your milkweed, I would like to grow it as well, I enjoy the related Hoya as a houseplant and I like the bloom forms and scents.

    • Hannah, butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is always late to come up. In fact, it’s easy to plant over it, since it’s one of the last things to emerge. Keep the faith with it for a bit longer. It took mine several years before it bloomed. Just be sure you’ve got good drainage; nothing kills it faster than too much water.

  11. I wish I had Monardas. Maybe I will find a spot for some. I have been seeing a lot of Wild Bergamot in my prairie travels. Didn’t know about the Earl Grey tea connection, that explains everything (I like Earl Grey!). Beautiful post.

  12. Things look so lush, and the monardas look fantastic. I saw you mention the hummingbirds were scarce, I only just saw my first one last week, but no feeders so maybe their favorite blooms are just late.
    I have a few monarda too and they are blooming, but hate my dry soil. The flowers are bright… the leaves not so much, and will shrivel up as soon as blooming is done.

    • You could try Monarda punctata – a Monarda that likes sun and dry soil. Also qualifies as one of the pointy plants you are so fond of.

      • Cynthia- it’s possible I already have m. fistulosa, or something that looks similar, I like it! … but I wasn’t familiar with m. punctate. Looks very pointy and I’ve added it to my to-try list 🙂

    • Another Monarda you might try is Monarda citriodora, known as lemon beebalm or purple horsemint. It’s another native, but it’s annual. I love its tiered blossoms and it does well for me in a recovering grassland area where it gets absolutely no care and has to compete with prairie natives and “weeds.” It reseeds itself there each year, lightly but reliably.

  13. Hi Jason, it was all going so well until I read the part about them being part of the mint family and then I was reminded of a few people telling me they were pulling out monarda because it spreads like a weed. I Does monarda develop runners like mint oand/ord does it self-seed everywhere. I do like the look of the flower and it’s colour – and it is called bee balm for a reason – but I don’t want to be spending half my time trying to get it under control.

    • I’m afraid it does run though I haven’t seen any self-sowing. It’s not so bad if you plant it near other tall plants that won’t be pushed around – and you yank out the unwanted stems.

  14. Your views and combinations are awesome!!! And that raspberry wine rocks! My bee balm is blooming though it got a bit of a beating from one of our storms which made my patch kind of bent over. Great post friend! Nicole

  15. Nice, nice, nice. I love Monarda and daylilies too. I like the colour of that pinky wild bergamot. I only have the Red Bee Balm in my garden.

  16. I really like the color range of monarda you are growing. They look great in your gardens. Mine are the basic red and they’re most finished blooming. We had lots and lots of hummingbirds visiting for a few weeks while they were still going strong.

  17. Your flowers are pretty Jason. I love ‘Purple Rooster’, I should plant it as well. I have only red monarda. Did you know it’s goes well with tea if you put its leaves with tea leaves and boiled water? This tea reminds bergamot tea. I often make ‘bergamot’ tea with monarda leaves.

  18. I plant the Monarda for the hummingbirds. It is their favorite flower here by far, even though I have Trumpet Vine and Penstemon. I like the Monarda, but it does run in the garden. I pull them out often. The shorter cultivars are now starting to spread their wings too. I always thought they would stay put.

    • You’re right, it does run, though I find the wild bergamot to be less aggressive. So far I just yank out the stems that pop up where they are not wanted.

      • Wild bergamot hasn’t run for me – the clumps just expand as any healthy perennial does…perhaps a big more than some, but less than the asters, for example. I’ve had wild bergamot now for 6 or 7 years…and last year was the first year it reseeded on its own for me. That said, I have probably 6 nice young clumps that formed from last summer, so I can see how it might get a little assertive if the conditions were extremely favorable for it.

  19. I like your Monarda combinations, too. I don’t have Monardas in my garden here at home, but they grow wild up at our cottage. And they’re blooming all over the place at the Arboretum now. All the polllinators–including the rare bumblebees at the Arboretum–love the Monarda. I love the vanilla scent of Swamp Milkweed. Mine is taking its time to bloom because it’s in the shade. More monarchs have visited the garden this summer than last summer. 🙂

  20. Lovely monardas, all but one of ours have vanished. The clumps of Cambridge Scarlet were beautiful and robust, but I split and moved them in the autumn, and they don’t seem best pleased to say the least. Must take more care!

  21. My monardas have drawn in huge numbers of bees and many butterflies not to mention the hummers so I let them grow all over this year. I’ll pull them to control them in fall.

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