The Monarda Speaks

Well, sort of anyway. It calls out to hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators, the tiniest of critters, with its mint-like scent. It really creates a buzz in the garden attracting pollinators with its nectar rich flowers. Look for the teeny, tiny buzzer in the photo below….

It is a prolific plant that will show up all over the garden if given the free berth. Out from under a peony if allowed.

Monarda will make a rather large drift and take up a big area if you let it. It is best sited where it has a lot of room to breathe and grow. I really keep mine in check and it is new to the lily bed, so we will see how neighborly it can stay.

It comes in sizes both big…

and small.

Small being a mere 18 inches tall in Petite Delight, left. It is shown here with Cleome Señorita Rosalita and Leucanthemum Snowy Lady at 12 inches tall.

We find Monarda in new and interesting colors, ranging from pale pinks to deep reds and dark purples.  In the days of my youth and picking wild bee balm, the deep red bee balm is still my favorite, although I love to see all the new colors clustered in gardens, like the pink below.

Monarda didyma or scarlet bee balm, which happens to start out on the pink side, is in my lily bed, shown two photos below in the pink stage.

Monarda  is enjoyed by bees so it is best sited away from seating areas, but it has never presented a problem in my tiny yard. The bees get to know the gardener and are very tolerant.  A native variety is Monarda fistulosa, or wild Bergamot, is drought tolerant in comparison. It blooms in shades of lavender from June through July.

Monarda didyma in the pale stage of pink

Bee Balm works well with other players, but will overtake a bed if allowed; unless it is a diminutive variety like this pink, Petite’s Delight, and is situated next to an aster that is a bit of a bully too. It is a long bloomer and can be extended with dead-heading. Deer are not very fond of Monarda either.

It is endemic to North America and has a native range as shown on the USDA map.

It grows best in full sun, like in the lily bed, but I have it in highly composted conditions getting about 3 hours sun also. The more shaded locations will sacrifice some flowering, but also keep it under control.  They also bloom later in the season than those in full sun, extending the show. I keep Monarda well watered in dryer times which helps ward off fungus. I have been lucky it has never gotten powdery mildew, even in the crowded locations. But crowding is highly ill-advised.  Monarda should be divided every three years to keep it looking neat and tidy.

My Original Clump

And I can not leave you with my dull looking Monarda.

Let it not just speak, but scream. Here is the original, left, and the remastered (Photoshop manipulation) on the right. Click to enlarge, it is quite a difference and very cool.

Usually a Green Apples trick and tip, maybe I will show how to make a Lomo photography image some time. It really brings out the crisp detail and shine. The new growth really does shine by the way. A great way to substantially enhance an image (the judges will be none the wiser), unless they know the technique. lol! And who’s to say you did not use a Lomo camera to produce it!

Original and Steely Cool

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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34 Responses to The Monarda Speaks

  1. I always feel all warm and fuzzy when I see Monarda in a garden or garden center. This is my first garden without it, and I miss it. I wonder if I can find a place where it can be allowed to do its thing and not take over the neighborhood … hmmmmm.

    Speaking of “hmmmmm”, the photo of the hummingbird is SUPERB!!!!

  2. Love these! The leaves are gorgeous too.

  3. Masha says:

    Great post! I have always wanted moarda but was afraid it would take over the garden, I didn’t realize there are smaller varieties, maybe I will try those… I loved the second picture of the monarda dydioma – such a clean geometric shape. Your lily bed looks awesome, I hope your lilies and monarda will live happily together. I am looking forward to your Photoshop post.

  4. Greggo says:

    I planted my first Monrada this spring. Jacob Cline, I liked the new lime green foliage and the scent. I put in on a east exposure, back of the border. Competes with a large variety coreopsis, boltonia, shasta daisy, and rudebeckia. Seems to doing very well. Now the rest of the story. Purchased a Monrada ‘Montana’ which was awesome in bloom . Planted it in the meadow garden in full sum exposure. RIP.

  5. Bom says:

    Interesting post. How many species / varieties do you have? Do they always bloom together? Which lomo camera are you trying to imitate? I did a bit of lomography myself and prefer the Holga to the “original” lomo cam, LC-A.

  6. Holley says:

    I tried Monarda, but it did not do well here. However, I love your tall red ones. I may have to try again!

  7. Shyrlene says:

    I just LOVE this post! Now that I’ve made the ‘commitment’ to the 3 new Monarda didyma “Marshall’s Delight”, I want to know more about it. The “prolific” nature makes me a bit nervous, now that I’ve read your post. I’ll have to keep an eye on it! (I just love the structure of the bloom — it’s kind of ‘punk rock’ looking, rather than dainty and fragile… which I also love, like Pink Guara.)

  8. Nell Jean says:

    Beautiful. There was a white native monarda across the highway one year. Volunteers like that sometimes fail to linger. I think my garden needs monardas.

  9. Monarda is really a great plant. I don’t have any in my garden but keep thinking about where it would fit. It does need some room. That photo with the hummingbird is great!

  10. Monarda grew very nicely in my sunny garden at a previous location. We had a few here, but my husband pulled them out before flowering, thinking they were weeds. I love the colors and the way the flowers attract birds and bees.

  11. Cat says:

    I just finished reading an article this evening about creating a Lomo image in PS…I’ll have to give it a try. I’m trying Monarda in my garden for the first time too…just planted it a month or so ago so don’t have high hopes for it’s success in this drought. Really just hoping it survives.

    Your hummingbird photo is awesome – they are so captivating, no matter how often they visit the garden!

  12. b-a-g says:

    We don’t have hummingbirds in the UK, I guess the bright red monardas (never heard of them before) are their favourites. The majority of my bird visitors are pigeons.

  13. patty says:

    I grow the two native species as well as one of the hybrids. Where I live the species tend to get powdery mildew every year but the hybrid does not. Like you said it is fairly easy to keep in check although right now I don’t have as many as I would like. Your photo comparisons are interesting and the steely cool one is just that!

  14. Super photo of the hummingbird and the Monarda! I have several varieties of Monarda in my garden and the bees & hummers are on them all day long. Super long blooming plant! Great post!

  15. TufaGirl says:

    I think the monarda does send out some sort of subliminal song to us all. I know whenever I see one in bloom I am immediately drawn to them. Lovely.

  16. jenny says:

    Love the monarda. I bought some about 10 years ago. It produced leaves every year but no flowers, then one year we had an incredibly wet and much cooler summer. It flowered like there was no tomorrow, and there was no tomorrow! However, last spring we had the native bee balm, horsemint, bloom on our field for the first time in 10 years. It was a wet fall and it seems conditions were just perfect. Now it will lie dormant for who knows how long. I get the message by looking at the map. From now on I will enjoy yours.

  17. linniew says:

    Boy I am reading about beebalm everywhere and realize mine are all pretty much MIA. But I am inspired to regroup on this plant, thanks to posts like this one. Thanks Donna!

  18. Bridget says:

    I’m envious, I can’t get Monarda to grow here, I think the weather is too wet.

  19. lula says:

    The monarda didyma, that’s the picture capturing the essence of the flower! and my favorite in your post. Great!

  20. enjoyed your post on Monarda…..I been growing “Jacob Cline” one the more mildew resistant varieties but down here in Alabama even with even watering it can get a dose of mildew, not all the time but it sure ain’t mildew proof just mildew resistant……a fresh as can be bee balm bloom in hard to beat for sheer color and interesting bloom shape and large size and the hummingbirds chasing it all over the yard is just icing on the cake…….:-) Before I forget it thanks for taking the time to read one of my little stories and taking the time to comment, both of which were certainly appreciated, and after reading your comment when I ride by your house it’ll be quiet as a mouse….:-)

  21. I won one of these plants recently, at a local Bee Guild meeting (they have a raffle of goodies for beekeepers at the end of each meeting). It just started to bloom, and seems to be the red variety. The stems have been a little brittle and leggy, perhaps it was started in too much shade? Now I just have to figure out where to plant it so the bees can really enjoy it!

  22. Beautiful. I have a love-hate relationship with monardas. I love them, they hate my garden! Or at least, where I plant them. They always get powdery mildew. I keep trying new varieties, but never with any great success. My latest experiments haven’t even made it in to the borders yet, but possible at the weekend.

  23. dona says:

    Thanks for showing the beautiful Monarda and sharing the relevant info, it’s very unusual here.

  24. Kala says:

    Beautiful photos. I used to grow bee balm, but it overtook my tiny garden.

  25. Stacy says:

    What a helpful post! Any plant that deer don’t enjoy, is a plant for me!

  26. Laurrie says:

    I have the short little Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ and I am always amazed at the intensity of its magenta blooms. You’ve captured it so well here. I don’t have room for the size of the big red bee balm, so I am content with the little guy. A short plant, but it has real presence in a summer garden.

  27. Jess says:

    You know, last year, my first real garden year, the beebalm did wonderful and I have that same brilliant scarlet color. This year, it came up about halfway and then all the sudden just died back. Its a little distressing and I don’t know what happened. And here I was worried it was planning on taking over the world!

  28. GirlSprout says:

    I love how sculptural they look and wish they were more drought tolerant. I will continue to admire them from afar.

  29. Alistair says:

    Hello Donna, Monarda, such a favourite of ours, and humming birds on such a modest plant who would ever have expected this. I never imagined Humming birds in such a northerly situation. Your enhanced picture looks so amazing and it is so refreshing that you treat photo enhancing with such openness, and why not the professionals have been doing it for years.

  30. Karen says:

    A really wonderful post on the lovely Monarda. I wish I had better luck with it here, but for me, mildew is the problem and the fact it likes to roam around the garden. I finally gave up on it, but now I’ll have to take a second look. Love the photos, as always.

  31. Cathy says:

    We had planted a monarda when we built our first cottage garden and it took over everything. I ended up pulling it out, but you have convinced me to try again. That first shot, with the hummingbird, and the pink blossom a few photos up from the bottom are simply breathtaking. But this time I will choose my varieties wisely!

  32. I love Monarda and have a large patch of the scarlet flowered varieity. However, after reading this, I really think I need to try ‘Petite Pink’.

  33. Donna says:

    Donna this is one of my fav native plants..I too have it in all colors and sizes, even white….I let it go wherever it wants in the locations I have it in and the native variety is in the meadow…love the scent, the colors and the pollinators that visit especially the hummers.

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