Another issue with monarda that puts it well away from living areas is its size. When in full bloom this is a big plant with tall very slender flower stems too numerous and thin to stake properly for support. When weighted down by rain water or overhead irrigation they instantly flop. Prefab wire perennial frameworks set upon the plant early in the year allow the stems to rise up through these openings to provide invisible support.
Very old gardening books remind us to put monarda in the back of the border where the flower stalks can rise without obscuring other plants. It’s recommended to keep them back from edges of walk ways where being brushed by passer’s by risks their stability too.
This is a cold hardy perennial rated to a frigid Zone 4, but it thrives in California’s dry summers easily with modest irrigation. Small fuel volume combined with spring growth and early flowering is timed nicely for western fire-prone home sites because they can be cut down flat after flowering for the dry wildfire season.
Monarda is among the least known but the most interesting of all native perennials. It works well with all the tallgrass prairie favorites such as shooting star and purple coneflower. It’s also adapted to grow among meadow grasses where the stalks can be mowed down at season’s end for a quick and easy tidy up. Yet it’s highbrow enough to fit into the most elegant perennial border too. So if you want bees, invite Monarda, into your summer garden and she will bring in the rarely seen pollinators no matter where you live.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com