Monarda are beautiful bee friendly scented perennials that are a sight to be seen in their prime. They originate from North America and Canada and are a member of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). Its common names include Bee balm, Horse Mint or Bergamot. It is called Bergamot because the fragrance of it is not dissimilar to Bergamot Oranges.
It is a very hardy perennial. Spreading through runners and forming large clumps in the right conditions. Those conditions need to be well drained but moist for all the didima types. However the fistulas need drier soil.
Monarda attract lots of pollinators not just bees, but butterflies and other insects. In their native North America they are often pollinated by hummingbirds due to their pollen being inside a long tube which normal bees have difficulty getting to. However bees are cleverer than we think and have been spotted making a hole at the end of the tubes and getting the pollen that way.
With a large range of varieties, ‘Didima Squaw’which is a scarlet red colour is an old favourite and a good variety for spreading well. It is a brilliant ‘back of the border’ plant as it grows to at least 5 foot! Our nursery manager, Matt, is particulary fond of Monarda and one of his personal favourites is a pink one called ‘Coral Reef’ which is a sport from ‘Marshalls Delight’.
The best new varieties are the ‘Knights’ with good mildew resistance and strong stems.
Used widely in herbal medicine for its essential oil and as an antiseptic, it is also used in herbal tea, hence the variety named ‘Earl Grey’