Speak not, whisper not,
Here bloweth thyme and bergamot…
—Walter de la Mare
The other day I spent a couple of hours poking around a field lush with wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. It was a hot day, with sweltering temperatures already in the low-90s˚F and heading for 102˚F.
Yet even in the midst of this heat wave there was activity. A few redwings feeding their fledged young and giving me a harsh scolding whenever I veered too close; various butterflies fluttering hither and yon; and bees of all sorts and sizes—though mostly bumblebees—avidly working the sprawling mint patch of lavender blooms for the sweet nectar.
I could hear their sound whenever I stopped to listen, a soft, eager hum of busy, widespread joy. Moreover, the still air was heavy with the plant's distinctive sweet-citrus perfume—sharp, heady, and somehow delightfully old-fashioned. Just by walking a few steps, the disturbance of my passage released additional, even stronger waves of the wonderful scent.
No wonder bees adore the stuff!
Wild bergamot is often called "bee balm." There's a red-bloomed version known as "Oswego tea." In fact, there are about fifteen species of bergamots in North America, in all sorts of colors. Most that I know smell quite similar to one another. Hummingbirds are especially fond of the big red-flowered varieties.
My mother used to have huge stands of lavender wild bergamot planted alongside the steps leading up to the front porch. She seldom cut it back so the long stems with their heavy blooms would drape over the step edges. Whenever you made your way up to the door, you couldn't help but give the plant a brush and release a dose of mint-tangy scent…and the fragrance that would linger on your clothing for hours afterwards.
Maybe that's why bergamot is one of my favorite summer blooms.