Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Oswego tea

Here's a splash of red from the garden - Monarda 'Jacob Cline,' otherwise known as Oswego tea, bergamot, horsemint or, most commonly, bee balm. Grows like a weed. My bee balm patch - mostly a plummy purple - is more than five years old, now huge and in need of division. As if I didn't have enough of the stuff, a couple years ago I bought 'Jacob Cline' in hopes of attracting more hummingbirds. This year, Jacob found his legs. I love its shaggy mien and bright scarlet tubes. It blooms earlier, is taller and more vigorous, and is supposed to be more resistant to powdery mildew and rust than other varieties. Usually those problems don't show up till later in the summer, but it's been such a wet spring, signs of trouble are already there on the lavendar stalks. The name Oswego tea comes from John Bartram, who discovered settlers near Oswego, N.Y., brewing tea with this plant. Supposedly, Earl Grey tea still includes it in the mix and the flowers are edible. I know bees agree. Experts recommend deadheading for a second bloom. Meanwhile, we look forward to hummingbirds.

Oswego tea

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)
Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Here's a splash of red from the garden - Monarda 'Jacob Cline,' otherwise known as Oswego tea, bergamot, horsemint or, most commonly, bee balm. Grows like a weed. My bee balm patch - mostly a plummy purple - is more than five years old, now huge and in need of division. As if I didn't have enough of the stuff, a couple years ago I bought 'Jacob Cline' in hopes of attracting more hummingbirds. This year, Jacob found his legs. I love its shaggy mien and bright scarlet tubes. It blooms earlier, is taller and more vigorous, and is supposed to be more resistant to powdery mildew and rust than other varieties. Usually those problems don't show up till later in the summer, but it's been such a wet spring, signs of trouble are already there on the lavendar stalks. The name Oswego tea comes from John Bartram, who discovered settlers near Oswego, N.Y., brewing tea with this plant. Supposedly, Earl Grey tea still includes it in the mix and the flowers are edible. I know bees agree. Experts recommend deadheading for a second bloom. Meanwhile, we look forward to hummingbirds.    

About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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