Monarda is also known as Bee Balm, Oswego Tea and Bergamot. Rubbing the leaves releases a scent reminsent of Earl Grey Tea, and until very recently, I believed Monarda was the flavouring for Earl Grey Tea.
However, I have since learned “the flavor of Earl Gray tea is often attributed to Monarda, yet, the taste actually originates from the oil of Citrus aurantium bergamia (Bergamot Orange).” Huh, you learn something new all the time.
Monarda plants are members of the mint family and, like all mints, are easy to grow. But they’re not thugs like true mints. They like full sun and are listed as being hardy from zones 3 to 9. There are dwarf varieties available, but most grow to about 18″ and mix well in borders with other sun loving perennials.
Monarda are grown primarily for their showy and rather funky flowers. We call them “Dr. Seuss flowers” at my house as they’re a cartoon of a flower, often with two mophead blooms stacked on top of each other.
Red is the most common bloom colour, but they are readily available in shades of pink and purple.
Hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators love Monarda. Even at my local nursery I found scores of bees thoroughly enjoying the plants that were in bloom on the sale tables:
Another bee was hanging out in this pot of Monarda didyma ‘Rockin’ Raspberry’
It is easy to multiply Monarda by digging up the plants in spring and dividing them, the earlier in the season the better. This photo shows emerging Monarda plants at a great stage for dividing:
After the blooms have faded I don’t deadhead them but leave the seedheads for birds to eat, and for their ornamental value.
If you’re looking for a sturdy plant with pollinator-attracting blooms in mid summer, Monarda might be a good option for your garden!