The bee’s knees: Give monardas a whirl this summer – you and the bees will adore them
Monardas are temperamental beasts – they’ll grow like weeds for some but others will struggle to keep them going from one year to the next. But whichever category you fall into, they’re worth the effort.
The flowers, held on strong, upright stems, appear at a time when roses, lavender and delphiniums are finishing but before the main flush of late-summer flowers like dahlias, cannas, rudbeckias and heleniums.
Bees and hoverflies adore nectar-rich monardas and one of their common names is ‘bee balm’, although they are perhaps better known as bergamot, for their pleasant aroma similar to bergamot orange.
The flowers, which appear between July and September, are striking: they have shaggy heads reminiscent of someone having a bad hair day, with petals going off in all directions.
Monardas, which are native to woodland and prairies in North America and Mexico, are members of the mint family and are named after a 16th-century Spanish botanist called Monardes.
For many years the choice of varieties available was fairly small, limited to a few including ‘Cambridge Scarlet’. But with gardeners in Holland and Germany becoming more enthusiastic about monardas it’s now easier to find different varieties.
One of the best ones to look out for is ‘Squaw’, which is bright scarlet with soft green leaves. It’s one of the monardas that is most resistant to powdery mildew. Other good reds are ‘Fireball’ and ‘Gardenview Scarlet’. ‘Scorpion’ is a dazzling violet, or there’s the pure ‘Snow White’.
To make the most of monardas, try combining them with phlox, asters, astilbes and ornamental grasses. They need to be planted in a sunny area with soil that doesn’t get too dry, and if you feed them in late spring they’ll grow vigorously. They tend to run out of steam every three or four years, but dividing them frequently keeps them healthy.
One of the advantages of monardas is that they’ll stay upright, whatever the weather, so they’re good for winter structure or to cut for dried flower arrangements.
If you start them off in early spring they’re easy to germinate from seed, but right now you can buy them from most good nurseries as young plants.
It’s wise to give them some kind of protection until they’re a good size as the leaves are tempting to slugs. Be sure to label them when planting out, as they’re one of the last perennials to show leaf growth.
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