It was a cold December day when I met Daphne Richards, our Travis County Extension Agent for Horticulture, in the parking lot of a local store. We transferred a couple of chunks of a dormant plant into the trunk of my car. Monarda, Peter's Purple, was the new sensation and Daphne had plenty to share among the Austin gardeners. Monarda, more commonly known as bee balm, suffers greatly from our hot, humid summers but this one, a cross between two southern varieties, was supposed to stand up to such conditions without developing mildew. It is much showier than our native bee balms Monarda punctata and Monarda citriodora, whose blooms vary from white to pale purple and bloom about the same time.
I and my fellow gardeners began sharing until we could share no more. I even sent some up to a gardener in Dallas. Then I took a clump and put it above the sunken garden between the sunken garden and the pool. Because this plant spreads by underground runners the second year it grew into the yellow iris. What I great idea, I thought, the two can bloom together or if the iris is slightly ahead the monarda will take over. Indeed. The monarda has taken over to the point where this year I will be pulling it all out and finding a new home for it. My yellow iris didn't care for its companion.
It is such a pity because a photograph of the plant in my garden, very similar to the one above, was chosen by Nancy Ondra to be featured in her recent book, The Perennial Matchmaker. Monarda, Peter's Purple, purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, and Rudbeckia hirta do make for a very pleasing combination.
And there is no surprise as to how the bee balm acquired its name because all manner of bees are attracted to the flowers.
And what great long lasting cut flowers they make. So when I began pulling some of the clump out last week I brought a huge bunch of flowers into the house. They are still going strong.
Never fear. I have this plant growing in two other places in the garden and I will likely find a new home for some of the one I take out. But if you live in Austin and would like to meet me in a parking lot this winter. Let me know and I will put you on the list.
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