It has been a lovely summer for gardens.
The plentiful dry weather has allowed plants to show themselves off to their best – something which has not happened in my garden for some time.
Things are starting to wind down now but there is no excuse for the border to lack colour and life.
This is usually achieved by the inclusion of some hot coloured, fiery plants such as Crocosmia and Rudbeckia, but if these are not to your taste, may I gently steer you towards a late season ‘must have’ – Monarda.
More usually known as Bergamot, Monarda is a hardy herbaceous perennial which is at its absolute best at this time of year. The plant is clump forming with sturdy stems bearing fragrant leaves and dense whorls of flowers which are held over a long period of time.
Once these are over, the spent flower heads provide interest throughout the winter, as well as a food supply for passing birds. The leaves may be dried and are a fragrant addition to pot pourri.
The plant is a huge attraction for insects, especially bees (hence its other name ‘Bee Balm’) and on a still, warm day the aroma carries right across the garden. It is undemanding in its growing requirements, thriving in open or shaded areas, reasonable soil with a little moisture if possible, and often thriving in areas where other perennials struggle to grow.
It does take a little time to establish and during these formative years, does not really enjoy soggy, floppy competition so it may be better to avoid such situations or ensure that its neighbours are very well staked.
In just a few years it will have established in to a strong clump which pushes up through earlier perennials with ease, up to a height of 3ft and more in some varieties, and with a good base system from which cuttings are very easily taken.
The plant is available in a number of colours. The brightest is M. ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ with rich red flowers and highly aromatic foliage. The red is not too glaring and blends well with richer purples (but really fires up when placed with orange and yellow if you actually do want something hot).
M. ‘Prarienacht’ (or ‘Prairie Night’) is more of a rich violet colour and M. ‘Blaustrumpf’ has slightly smaller flowers in a deep purple.
For the lovers of pink there is M. ‘Beauty of Cobham’, a real old favourite whose large, clear pink flowers contrast beautifully with the darker lips at the base and M. ‘Twins’, generally pink but with an almost bi-coloured effect as the top of the flower is lighter in shade than the base.
For a real contrast the white flowered M. ‘Schneewitchen’ has bright green foliage which sets the large blooms off to a treat.
Monarda is very effective when grown as a specimen on its own, particularly if you have the room to put several plants of the same variety together, or you can support it with some complimentary (or contrasting) planting to heighten the effect.
Choosing plants within the same colour spectrum will give a soothing, calming effect whereas choosing colour from the opposite end of the spectrum creates a hot, fiery effect.
Consider foliage as a foil to the planting. Grasses are looking particularly good at this time of year and a white Monarda under-planted with blue Festuca glauca is very striking, particularly as the stems of some of the taller growing Monardas can look a little bare.
I recently saw a huge stand of M. ‘Pawnee’ (a gentle violet flower on very tall stems) grown with the tall, wavy grass Molinia ‘Transparent’ which moved about in the breeze giving glimpses of the beautiful flowers behind.
Equally effective was M. ‘Cherokee’, with a peachy coloured flower, almost bi-coloured with its redder base planted behind a bright purple leaved and flowered Phlox paniculata and framed by the glorious Stipa gigantea (Golden Oat Grass).
The area was smothered in bumble bees – and I mean ‘smothered’! Whatever you choose to do, Monardas will give long lasting pleasure both to you and to the wildlife and that can’t be bad, can it?
PLANT OF THE MONTH
Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’ (Oregano, Marjoram)
This plant almost falls in to the category of sub-shrub, being dense and woody in form and sometimes providing over wintering foliage.
It is a hardy, low growing variety with rich, dark leaves (which are edible) and masses of dark pink flowers held on erect stems to a height of around six inches.
It prefers full sun and well drained soil, performing best on slightly alkaline ground, self-seeds prolifically and is easy to propagate by taking non-flowering shoots in late summer.
It scrambles around happily at the front of the border, providing a lovely, aromatic foil for any number of late flowering perennials. Chop it back in spring and up it bounces again.
You may have to hunt about for this one – I have seen it for sale at Yorkshire Lavender, Terrington, Reighton Nurseries and Scampston Walled Garden. A good alternative is O. ‘Herrenhausen’.