Gardens - Herb Gardening

Grow fragrant bee balm

Lorraine Hunter
Photography by
Jerry Pavia

This herb is showy enough for a mixed border or a long-lasting bouquet

A friend once showed me around her country garden as she filled a basket with bits of this and that, including the leaves of a bright red bee balm (Monarda didyma). With the contents of the basket, and a liberal lacing of honey, she made a pot of the most delicious tea I've ever tasted! So I wasn't surprised to learn that another common name for this native North American herb is Oswego tea, which has a taste similar to Earl Grey and is valued for its culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses.

This beautiful perennial with bright red, violet, pink or white tubular flowers, square stems and mint- or citrus-scented foliage is one of the few herbs with really showy blossoms. A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, it grows in dense clusters ranging from 30 to 120 centimetres tall and blooms from mid- to late summer.

Bee balm is perfect for the summer border with companions such as garden phlox, purple coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), Rudbeckia, lilies and hardy geraniums. Although it's a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, deer will not eat bee balm. And when dried, its aromatic leaves are excellent in potpourri and sachets.

Propagation is easy: divide plants or take cuttings of the stolons. Plants will also self-seed.

Bee balm should be dug up, divided and replanted every three or four years in early spring or fall to keep plants healthy.

Key: Monarda ‘Beauty of Cobham': 1, M. ‘Blaustrumpf': 2, M. citriodora: 3, M. didyma: 4, M. d. ‘Aquarius' 5, M. d. ‘Coral Reef': 6, M. d. ‘Dark Ponticum': 7, M. d. ‘Gardenview Scarlet': 8, M. d. ‘Jacob Cline': 9, M. d. ‘Marshall's Delight': 10, M. d. ‘Panorama': 11, M. d. ‘Petite Delight': 12, M. fistulosa: 13.

Canning Perennials: 9, 10, 12.

Don & Anna's Greenhouses and Garden Centre, (250) 499-5785 (British Columbia): 9, 11, 12.

Ferme les Champs Fleuris, (418) 889-9014 (Quebec): 4.

Florabunda Seeds: 3.

Hole's Greenhouses & Gardens Ltd.: 1, 8, 10-13. 

Kettleby Herb Farms
: 4, 11-13.

Lilies In The Valley: 5.

Lindenberg Seeds Ltd.: 3.

Morden Nurseries Ltd.: 6, 8, 10, 12.

Patrick Studio Inc.: 13.

Peninsula Flowers Nursery: 9.

The Perennial Gardens Inc., (604) 467-4218 (British Columbia): 2, 7-10.

Prairie Greenhouse: 9.

Richbar Nursery Ltd.: 9, 10.

Salisbury Greenhouse and Landscaping: 2, 8, 11.

Scott's Nursery Ltd.: 2, 3.

El Summit Perennials Nursery: 13.

Turley's Florist and Potting Shed: 1, 7-10, 12.

UnCommon Ground
: 8.

Veseys Seeds Ltd.: 11.

Whitehouse Perennials
: 2, 9.

William Dam Seeds
: 3, 4. 

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