Hooray for botanist John Bartram, who brought Monarda Didema Back to Philadelphia from Oswego, New York in the 1740s. He marveled at the abundance of aromatic leaves and colors, and told the colonists how Native Americans used it as a tea to relieve stomachaches. Decades later, in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, New Englanders tried boiling its leaves. Monardamint (Mentha spp.), and other aromatic and herbaceous plants but found them a poor substitute for their beloved tea.
Monarda (eventually known by the common names of bee balm, bergamot, and Oswego tea) were later appreciated in a whole new context. As settlers moved south and west, they saw majestic snow-capped mountains, beautiful expanses of deciduous trees and evergreens, and, in the summer, magnificent meadows with beautiful grasses and wonderful wildflowers, including honeysuckle. Bee balm was also included. A prairie jewel in hues of pink, purple, red, violet blue and coral, it was a wonderful sight to the new settlers.
Today this deliciously fragrant American beauty graces gardens far and wide and serves as a nectar delight for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. However, it can often be troubled by powdery mildew, which keeps modern-day botanists and horticulturists searching for disease-resistant varieties. Thanks to the keen eyes of a fellow gardener on a walk through the Appalachian forests of West Virginia, we have the wonderful mildew-resistant selection ‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’.
If you’re looking to add pizzazz to your garden, your search is over. In early summer this natural hybrid produces profusions of bright fuchsia flowers atop sturdy stems. It is a tall clipper and medium grower that spreads by underground rhizomes and eventually forms large clumps. When tested with other major bee balms at the Mount Cuba Center trials in Hokesson, Delaware, it emerged as the top performer with an excellent powdery mildew–resistance rating.
It is suspected that ‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’ may have come from an attractive union between the two M. Didima and M. fistulosa. I first saw this plant at a local plant conference, and it was an instant plant lust. In the five years I’ve had it, this bee balm is the closest I’ve seen to perfect mildew resistance without spraying. This is something I love — less work for the gardener! Even so, I recommend installing all bee balms with some elbow room to promote good air circulation.
‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’ flowers for several weeks, possibly seven or more depending on where you live and with deadheading. This gives your feathered visitors a long time to enjoy a treat and you to enjoy the wonderfully warm color that can make for a beautiful combination.
With so many options available, growing bee balm is like growing a rainbow, with each plant more beautiful than the next. The color choices are stunning, and the new varieties are surprisingly diverse in height—from tall to medium to dwarf and compact—and are perfect for any part of the garden. Just be sure to read up on plant mildew resistance before choosing, as some are better than others. However, you definitely can’t go wrong with ‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’.
‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’ Bee Balm
Monarda ‘Judith’s Fancy Fuchsia’
Conditions: full sun to partial shade; Moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Local Range: North America
Stephanie Cohen is the author of numerous gardening books and has spent her entire career trialling, speaking about, and teaching all things plants. Although officially retired, she will never retire from gardening.