Review of "Bergamot"
Strange being "the new boy" in the workplace at the ripe age of 60, a lot of stuff to take on board, but should be fine. Haven't yet introduced my new colleagues to my jokes and dreadful puns. Nice to leave home at 9.30 a.m and land home at 3.30 p.m!
Bergamot – often called "bee balm" or, to give it its scientific name, Monarda – is a garden plant that is less popular than it once was, and, in my opinion, deserves to be better known and more widely grown.
If you like big, showy plants, this isn’t the one for you. I think it’s worth growing, though if:
~~ you like informal “cottage garden” type flowers~~ you like plants that come up every year without needing too much fuss
~~ you like to encourage bees and other pollinating insects (and I think that we should do this increasingly, given the changes in agricultural practice and the number of gardens converted to patios or decking)~~ you like something a little different
~~ you like to grow flowers that you can use in pot pourri mixes
Bergamot grows to around 2-3 feet tall (and should be planted about 2 feet apart). The flowers have long, narrow petals, and the leaves are aromatic. Depending upon the variety, the flowers may be red, pink, white, lilac or purple.
Bergamot needs a moisture-retentive soil and ideally needs full sun for part or most of the day. It will grow in what gardeners call light shade – but that isn’t the same as a dark corner!~ ~ ~ Moisture – a solution.
The soil in my garden is quite loamy, but for my plants I dug a hole about 6” wide and 6-8” deep (I don’t “do” metric measurements!) and filled it with a mix of garden soil and compost. You can either use home-produced or bought compost. If your soil is very free-draining, I’d advise digging and preparing a bigger planting hole.After home-produced compost, my product of choice is composted farmyard manure from a garden centre. It’s remarkably low-odour, and is supplied pre-packed in plastic bags like any other garden compost.
Equally importantly, to me, it is eco-friendly. I NEVER buy compost that contains peat, which damages the environment – including CO2 absorption – and is not sustainable.The plant is also well suited to a bog garden or to pots.
The disadvantage is that they need to be re-applied from time to time, and if the mulch comes into contact with the plant stems it can cause them to rot.
In dry weather conditions the plant should be kept well watered; this can be reduced by “mulching”. A mulch is a layer of material laid over the soil to a depth of (ideally) a couple of inches to reduce evaporation. It could be natural and organic, such as, again, garden or bought compost, or bark chippings. The advantage of organic mulches is that they are gradually absorbed into the soil. They improve the soil’s structure.
Alternatives are pebbles, gravel, or stone/slate chippings. bear in mind, though, that these, too, will sink into the soil over time, and are more expensive than organic mulches.
This plant is available from garden centres or mail-order/on-line. I grew mine from seed.
~ ~ ~ ~ Buying plants
has the advantage of their being ready to plant out with little fuss, and, depending when bought, they should flower the same year.The disadvantage is cost – a single plant will be many more times the cost of a packet of seeds. If you only want one or two plants, this won’t matter unduly.
I always buy plants in person from a garden centre (or possibly a market stall). I’ve been ripped-off on occasion by at least two mail order “specialists” – plants have been unhealthy, under-established, or up to three-quarters dead upon arrival and incurable.
~ ~ ~ ~ Grow your own?
I do enjoy growing plants from seed. It’s a bit of a phaff, especially if you have to rely on valuable window space. On the other hand, it’s very rewarding, and gives me many plants at low cost. Even if I throw away excess seedlings, I’m still in pocket. Ideally I give some away to neighbours or sell at minimal cost (I used to advertise on the wanted/for sale page of my workplace’s intranet). This is a great way to get wildlife-friendly plants into other people’s thinking – and gardens!I won’t go into great detail about growing from seed. I find it best to sow one or two seeds in plant “cells” that sit inside a seed tray and either buy a cheap flexible “propagator” lid or grow in my small polythene greenhouse. Bergamot needs to be sown from February to about May. If sown in February or March it will need to be sown in a heated greenhouse or indoors on a windowsill. I find it best always to sow at least twice as many seeds as I want plants; some won’t germinate, and others will die or succumb to pests.
Once they have a few pairs of leaves they should be transferred to slightly bigger individual pots and planted out in late spring/early summer.
~~ I did lose a number of small plants to slugs or snails. Established plants seen to cope fairly well against these slimy critters, but young plants need some protection, in my experience. I hate to use the “standard” blue slug pellets as they are highly toxic to other animals – including pets – and to children. I use organic slug pellets. Other methods and products to deter slugs may be worth checking out.
Subsequent care~~ I find bergamot fairly trouble-free, though having lost a few plantlets to slugs and snails, I deter slugs from around the plants in spring/early summer when they begin to grow.
~~ As mentioned above, they will need watering in dry spells of weather.~~ Removing fading flowers prolongs the flowering period.
~~ At least every year (autumn when the plants are starting to die down, or spring just as they are starting to produce new growth), the plants should be “divided”. They should be carefully cut into smaller plants, not by chopping clumsily with a spade, but with a knife. An old kitchen knife is handy. If you value your marriage/relationship it’s probably best not to use the best carving knife and simply wash it and put it away after use!This is important, as well as giving extra new plants to grow or give away (or sell). It encourages new, healthy growth. If this isn’t done for several years, the plants start to show signs of age (I know that feeling well!); they become more “woody”, produce fewer flowers, and after a few more years they will die.
Gardening books often advise cutting down perennial (“every year”) plants down to ground level in the autumn. Increasingly, wildlife-conscious gardeners recommend delaying this until the spring, to provide invertebrates with more shelter (and insect-eating birds with more food!) through the winter.
I rate bergamot 4 stars. I like it for the reasons outlined at the start of this review when highlighting its deserving to be more popular.The only reason it’s lost a star is because of the susceptibility to slugs or snails of seedlings or young plants.
I bought a packet of seeds from Wilko for £1 (own brand)! Other seed suppliers sell bergamot seeds, and these are available from garden centres or on-line.Established plants will vary in price from about £4-£8, depending on size, and on the profit margin of the establishment in question!
Apologies for the photo; this is the end of the growing season and the plant is preparing for hibernation!
© mennycds September 2017
Product Information : Bergamot
Manufacturer's product description
Plant Type: Herb
Listed on Ciao since: 24/05/2001