Thursday, July 5, 2012

BALM FOR BEES


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.
———————           


24 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Of course that is why Grizz. Things, particularly scents I find, that remind us of our childhood and our parents are precious to us throughout our lives.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I'm sure you're right…although bee balm smells so wonderful I know it would be something I'd love anyway, without the history. But smells are such amazing memory triggers. I never saw a piece of wood and get a whiff of sawdust without a thousand memories of my father rushing back immediately. I wouldn't trade anything for those evocative scents and the time-travel they provide.

Penny said...

Wish I could grow it, I have tried but doesnt like my conditions,Havent commented for a while but I am still reading your lovely blog.

Grizz………… said...

Penny…

I have four or five different Monardas planted around the cottage, though not the wild one you see here. The hummingbird photo I ran with a post a couple of weeks back was from the patch of tall red "Bee Balm" Monarda just outside my writing room window.

Glad to know you're reading. Lately, I've been wondering whether readership has dropped way off or just the number of comments received…and have concluded (hoped?) it is simply the latter.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ - I could smell the scent of which you so eloquently write. I feel I am 'there', involved in the moment - anticipating........
Love to you
Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Thank you. I hope you're doing okay.

It is killer hot here…and Myladylove is just now starting a mile and a half walk in a parade to represent her company. Ground level on asphalt must be in excess of 150 degrees. I'm worried to death about her.

Robin said...

We built a raised bed at work and I made sure to plant some Bee Balm. Can't wait till it blooms.

.......

Left work after four hours today. The past two days in the heat finally got to me.

Your Lady is a smart woman. She'll leave if she's overwhelmed. Plus, she's got you to come home to. ')

Scott said...

Nice post, Grizz. I've got some Oswego tea in my garden and will testify that the hummingbirds do find the plant very attractive.

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

Sorry to be so slow in replying…

I keep planting more and more bee balm—or Monarda, of various sorts, to be more technically accurate—every year around the cottage. Some do better than others, but they're all good. Like coneflowers, Back-eyed Susans, and several other essentially prairie plants, they're pretty carefree and the bees, butterflies, and hummers love 'em. I don't think you can overdo.

You gotta take care in this heat. Listen to your body, and mind it, drink plenty of water, and be practical without being foolish.

Which brings us to Myladylove, who—though indeed a bright gal—is like me (alas!) and bullheaded like few people you've ever met. Telling her to take it easy when she's agreed weeks ago to walk in a parade, is like talking to stone wall. She will quietly listen, maybe asked a question or two and debate their answers…but the bottom line is she'll still do what she promised she'd do in spite of changed circumstances, common sense, medical advice, husbandly requests—lacking my throwing a fit, us having a fight, and me physically dragging her home. Which might instead end up with both of us needing medical attention prior to being incarcerated until we figured how to make bail.

Luckily, some of her senior executive superiors—being more practical, unsullied by rampant bullheadedness, and her immediate bosses—made her ride on the company float with them and wave to the crowd instead of schlepping along with the twenty-somethings at the edge of the scalding pavement, tossing candies and beads to kids in the crowd. I didn't know that at the time, so when she finally came dragging in (it was still well over 100˚so even seated on the float, it was a physically draining ordeal) I was about to take up drinking as my new profession.

But all's well that ends well…and I was more glad to see her home and safe than I was hacked that she hadn't thought to call me and say she wasn't actually walking. Plus she could see both my point and concern and did her best to be contrite.

Grizz………… said...

Scott…

Yup, those big red plume-y blooms indeed attract the hummers. I've had them zooming around my Oswego tea patch for several weeks. In the last few days, though, the flowers have started to dry and fade, so now I've have to look to canna lilies and zinnias for sipper action.

Hildred and Charles said...

I love the de la Mare quote, - brought some Oswega Tea with me when we moved to town last year and it is just beginning to bloom, - not the great patch we had before that was such an attraction to bees and hummingbirds, but I am thinking positively about it spreading vigorously.

Grizz………… said...

Hildred and Charles…

The quote is taken from the first part of "The Sunken Garden":

Speak not — whisper not;
Here bloweth thyme and bergamot;
Softly on the evening hour,
Secret herbs their spices shower,
Dark-spiked rosemary and myrrh,
Lean-stalked, purple lavender;
Hides within her bosom, too,
All her sorrows, bitter rue.

I nurture and have high hopes for all my plantings of bergamot. In fact, I'm thinking of starting a big bed next year (or maybe this year if we ever get past the drought and heat wave) devoted to bergamot and nothing else—and precisely because the bees, butterflies, and hummers find it so attractive.

AfromTO said...

I just wanted to respond to your question of readership or comment being down-I used to enjoy your earlier posts more-lately it seems to be just closeup photo after closeup of either flower or insect,bird.whereas you used to show skies,landscapes and waterscape along with closeups.We get transported more into a landscape.we get to escape.Your writing would also mention things you were cooking and baking-you have a chefs skill I love to read about.So anyway just saying I can look up names of dragonflies elswhere but to catch a glimpse into another place is harder:)

Grizz………… said...

AfromTo…

I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Too, I understand what you're saying and, I think, where you're coming from. I've thought for some time that I do need to mix things up more. I should also tell you—having now checked this year's stats against the same period last year—readership is not down but is actually up a bit, and visitors are staying longer, as well. A moth or two ago comments thinned out somewhat, though that's usually the case during the summer. I noticed a similar dip on other blogs.

I do think the early boom of blogs and blogging is waning. The day of everyone and their brother having a blog is probably over. Blogging is a responsibility, work if you don't like writing at some length and making photos. Facebook and Twitter and all those sites have weeded out the quick blurbers. I like writing. I like making photos. I can write and shoot well enough, but whether I have anything interesting to communicate using those tools is not for me to say; only readers get to vote by visiting.

Lately I've been making a lot of close-ups, so some of them are finding their way here, into my posts. Too many, maybe—though the recent dragonfly series garnered more comments than most. And I do try to write as an individual rather than a naturalist—not giving much science or history; I don't like those "textbook" style nature pieces, either. However, I think the right name of the bird or bug or flower on a photo is important, because every time I leave it off, someone either writes and asks what it is, or writes and tells me what it is, thinking I don't know. Of course sometimes, the name of a thing doesn't matter to the piece. But you're right in that I should do more landscapes and such, and more posts on stuff that's not particularly nature related. Which, as noted, was already something I'd considered and more to the original intent of this blog. I've also kicked around the notion of a second public blog of everything but nature. Or maybe sticking the bulk of new nature photos on a photo-sharing website and just changing this around to that more eclectic approach.

Again, thank you. I value your comments, always…but more than anything, I value you as a talented artist and friend.

AfromTO said...

ps:I am driving across and painting-am supposed to leave Mon but haven't purchased a used car yet(Sat seeing one)I have told so many that, I have to go now.I can't wait to paint Superior -want to meet up there? I'll paint your portrait...lol

Grizz………… said...

AfromTO…

Ahhhh, the old I've-announced-I-would-do-it-and-now-I gotta syndrome. I've hummed that tune myself.

Much as I'd like to escape from this heat to the northcountry—not to mention the honor and experience of having you do a portrait—I'll be lucky to get away for a Superior visit before Sept./Oct.

If you're taking the south shore route, do stop at Grand Marais and drive out onto the Point, which is where I have my land. Also, you might want to have a look at the campground about 10-12 miles west of town, right on the big lake (not the Hurricane River one but on west) which is located within a vast stand of almost exclusively white birch, and which some years ago a forestry told me was, so far as he knew, one of the largest such examples in North America. Even on a cloudy day, the place simply lights up. Might make a good painting subject.

AfromTO said...

I googled the birch forest-ahh reminds me of the old country-

Grizz………… said...

AfromTO…

I've been visiting the place for years, long before the park service moved in. Many a morning in the spring or fall, I've been the only person for miles around. And upon waking, crawled from tent or back of the pickup into a magical world of velvet fog on the big lake a few yards away, with wisps moving through the thousands of trees like restless spirits, and the hillside of white birches aglow with ethereal light, their trunks almost glowing. To see that place under such conditions is something beyond my ability with words to convey and share; a special place I hope you get to experience.

AfromTO said...

god you can titillate with golden words-you are as smooth as silk

Grizz………… said...

AfromTO…

Thank you—though I'm sure, being a gifted painter, you understand it comes, not only from the use of certain craft skills, but from a wellspring of genuine passion and an intimate understanding of the subject, filtered through the alchemy of whatever talent you possess and can conjure up on a given day and moment.

Being Irish doesn't hurt, either. :-)

AfromTO said...

yahhhh-just found a mate to my stolen tent at a garage sale...I love garage sales.

Grizz………… said...

Afrom TO…

Yup, me too! I do garage sales every Thursday. Now I gotta go to a ball game, which I loath.

AfromTO said...

hi I may be getting a red car(bad colour) but I am thinking of doing a matte camouflage spray job so I can have more stealth camping options.how's that sound.or will that be too eyecatching in normal places?

Grizz………… said...

AfromTO…

For what it's worth…I'd say that depends on two things: 1) The type of car—sedan, SUV, etc.
2) Your longer-term intentions—do you plan on keeping the vehicle until it falls apart and is ready for the junk heap, or trading it in in a few years?

I'm not sure what "stealth camping" is; maybe what I've always called sneaking and/or trespassing. Camo paint isn't going to make you all that much less visible at a campground or pulled and parked down a two-track back in the boonies. But it doesn't look as citified/amateurish an outdoor person as red.

As to it being "eye catching," who cares? And what if it is—though I don't think a camouflage paint job looks all that out of place on "outdoorsy" rugged vehicles…but the matte finish will up it a notch or two in the serious factor.

Besides, for a lady artist who's nervy enough to regularly go camping on her own, I'd say it fits. Makes you look more intimidating and competent, less like a target to meddle with. Why, she catch you messin' around, that gal be apt to shoot your sorry…uh, behind.