A Monarda Moment
In mid-summer the Monardas take center stage in the Sidewalk Border. The blue and purple salvias retain a bit of color, but are mostly done. The ‘Husker Red’ Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) and golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) have been cut back. Now come the Monardas in red, lavender, and purple (yes, purple).
The Monarda that demands your attention first is ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Monarda didyma), with its enormous red flowers. This Monarda reminds me of certain relatives whose normal speaking voice is a shout – but they are so entertaining you love them anyway.
Monardas are members of the mint family, and ‘Raspberry Wine’ is a particularly vigorous grower. However, I just pull out the stems if it pokes up where it is not wanted. Like other Monardas, it is beloved by bees and butterflies.
If ‘Raspberry Wine’ is a happy shout, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a soothing murmur. This is a wild species Monarda with much smaller flowers that come in a calm lavender-blue.
Wild bergamot (an ingredient in Earl Gray tea) does not compete as energetically as ‘Raspberry Wine’ and other varieties of M. didyma (bee balm).
Even so, I think the two are good companions – both the contrasting colors and heights look good to me.
I have another Monarda growing in the Island Bed, behind the Sidewalk Border. This is ‘Purple Rooster’, a more compact variety (though by no means a dwarf, mine grows 3-4′) of M. Didyma.
Powdery mildew is the biggest complaint most people have about Monardas. ‘Raspberry Wine’ is supposed to be resistant. However, by late August the leaves of all my Monardas are infected. I’ve decided to just ignore it, and switch my attention to the asters and goldenrods that are coming into bloom.
Monardas like moist soil, but I’ve found wild bergamot to be more adaptable.
In this part of the garden the Monardas share the stage with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). The pink-red of the species are still opening, and you can sometimes catch a whiff of the vanilla scent.
The big grasses also are coming into their own now. Switchgrass ‘Northwind’ (Panicum virgatum) is not yet blooming, but its tall upright leaves and stems add some dignity to the proceedings.
Also, the seedheads of northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is starting to form. At this stage they seem like bits of green confetti dangling from fishing lines.
On the other side of the sidewalk, the daylilies are what you notice right now in the parkway plantings. In particular, there is an enormous banana yellow daylily whose name I cannot remember. It was actually a freebie that came with a shipment I ordered from Oakes Daylilies. Since I can’t be sure of the cultivar name, I have come up with my own private name for the big fella: ‘Mr. Banana’.
Are the Monardas blooming in your garden?