Wednesday, August 14, 2013

M is for Monarda

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.

Russian Sage

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 ButterflyThree 'C's, 'D' is for DelphiniumThe 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.

More Information and Links:

Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario has a great collection of Monarda varieties on offer.


  1. This is a plant I am unfamiliar with, but I have just looked it up, and we do have it over here. Definitely something I will include next year, as I am all for attracting the bees.

  2. Oh, I really like colour of 'Raspberry Wine' - I must see, if I can buy it somewhere.

  3. I have always loved Monarda for many reasons: I like its unkempt look, that it attracts bees and that it is associated with Earl Grey tea (my favourite). You have included many lovely colours but my favourite are the deep red ones. Hmmmm…suggestions for "K": Knautia (Scabiosa?) or Kniphofia (Red hot poker) ?

  4. I kind of like the bad hair day look - some of the monarda in your photos are like rock stars in the garden with hot pink and purple bad hair.

  5. I love the Monarda's so very much but they don't grow well in my little garden helas! They are so different in flowershape to other plants.
    Have a wonderful day Jennifer.

  6. Interesting, never seen that flower before!

  7. What beautiful photographs - they tempt me into Monardas, which I haven't yet grown

  8. The hummingbirds go mad for monarda...ours is Cambridge Scarlet. The plant is also used in Earl Grey Tea I think...bergamont.. Jennifer, your photos are so beautiful and the information on varieties, there seem to be so many now. That powdery mildew can be a real problem that is for sure.

  9. I had several Monardas at my last home and have not replanted it at my present house. I loved the flowers until they mildewed. I even had the petite one.


  10. Bald Bee Balm! LOL you kill me!! They kind of remind me of spiders... love em anyway!!

  11. Such pretty plants I had them at one time but they tended to take I would like to try them again ~ yours are so pretty!

  12. Monarda is also one of my favourites. I have a light pink called Fisches, and have sowed some red ones that havens flowered yet. I really like Raspberry Wine. I have mine with echinacea, and that is a lovely mix. The butterflies love both plants, and I welcome them :-)

  13. Lovely to find out more about Monarda, deffo a great plant for the insects.
    I was smiling re your bad hair day comment, but a very apt description.xxxx

  14. This is a great profile of a plant that has me muddled -- I can't figure out how to use it. I love your descriptions of a bad hair day and a plant that sets out on a road trip! As you point out, it's not all that attractive, really, and yet it's an interesting plant and a pollinator magnet and I do love the scent of the leaves. I have Petite Delight. The color is odd, the plant won't spread so it remains a stiff little thing in individual clumps, and it looks awful after bloom. But I like it, somehow : ) Go figure!

  15. I adore Monarda as well. Partly it's because the bees and hummingbirds love it, and partly I just like the way it looks. Oh, and it doesn't mind soggy soil. My Raspberry Wine is in part shade and blooms just fine, but that may be a North Carolina heat thing. It does like to roam, but that's a good thing!

  16. I saw these in a garden I visited last week in the red colour, the bees loved them. Funny thing about them is that in the middle of the flower another stalk grew with another flower on top - is this usual?

  17. Pretty, pretty images, Jen. I too like the native Monarda at the local parks. They look so pretty in the fields. I too have Marshall's Delight and Petite Delight. They don't spread rampantly like the Raspberry Wine.

  18. I love monarda and have a really big patch growing in afternoon shade. It definitely flowers less and spreads more than the cultivars growing in the sun. I also think it looks like a plant with a bad hair or maybe dreadlocks. :o) Gorgeous photos!

  19. Ooooh, these are all plants I would love to have huge drifts of in my, only problem is that I have a postage stamp size garden where two/third is shade or semi shade and the sunny part is mostly occupied by my beloved roses! I think I will have to continue enjoying these on photos like yours. Lovely!

  20. omg, 'Coral Reef' is fabulous. How I would love to find a spot for that one in my garden. My Monarda struggles because most of it's planted in part sun. I can't believe I need MORE SUN when only a few years ago it seems that's all I had.

  21. Jennifer, you've got a nice collection of monarda!Mane different colors. I have only one - red variety.Monarda reminds me the Earl Grey tea with bergamot and I always add some leaves in tea pot.

  22. Jennifer I adore these messy flowers even as they fade...and all the heights and colors too.

  23. I finally have a couple Monarda in my garden. It does spread a bit, but I have the room. It is in shade. I plan on moving a couple chunks of it this fall/ spring.


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