Monarda didyma

Monardo, or bergamot. Is a highly aromatic labiate plant which was long ago elevated from the herb garden to the herbaceous border. The first bergamot to be introduced to Britain from its native Virginia in North America was M. fistulo-sa, collected by John Tradescant the younger in 1637 on one of his epic plant-hunting journeys across the Atlantic. But M. didyma is a larger and more brilliant plant, introduced to Britain from Oswego, on Lake Ontario, in 1744. It is sometimes called bee balm, because of its richness in nectar, and sometimes Oswego tea, because it was a favourite herb for making tisane. It is a handsome hardy herbaceous perennial, with whorls of scarlet tubular flowers on stalks 2 feet (60 cm) high, which carry hairy, nettlelike, scented leaves all the way up. A curiosity in its growth is that when the first flush of whorls is fading, the stalks grow upwards from the centre for another two or three inches, and a fresh whorl blooms on top, so the flowering season lasts for nearly three months from mid-summer into early autumn.

Monarda didyma needs sunshine, but it also demands moisture, and burns up if not watered in dry weather. It also likes a lot of food, and regular mulches will both feed the plant and keep the roots moist. It spreads fast, and though it looks best in bold plantings, the clumps may need dividing every other year in spring.

The best-known variety is ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, but there are other forms in pink, purple and white. This is an excel-lent plant to grow with phlox, which like the same rich, moist conditions.

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