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This is the time of year when taking the long view pays off. Perennials offer stability to the garden, have an excellent return on investment compared to annuals, and in their time put on a show of their own. And with the heat of summer New England gardens explode upward like a 4th of July fireworks display. And like the large comets that wow the crowd there’s one standout above the rest. Like a Scottish Highlander, it displays unruly red tops, toughness of spirit, wild tendencies and tight-knit roots that keep the clan together. Monarda, better known as bee balm, takes the stage.

The lilies and day lilies look spectacular and hold their own in the garden. The daisies offer a vibrant splash of white and yellow. The annuals are filling in admirably. But bee balm steals the show. Masses of brilliant red explosions hover over the garden, commanding attention for weeks. And boy do they get attention. The hummingbirds are all over them. Butterflies are drawn to the yard. And guests unfamiliar with these marvels ask about them more than any other flower in the garden.

It’s appropriate that they burst on the scene on the 4th of July week. I can think of no other combination that would match the pyrotechnics so well as bee balm and lilies. Out of respect the dahlias, purple coneflower, balloon flowers and others hold off their own performance to let these two tango above the green masses. I know we aren’t supposed to play favorites, but I can’t help myself; Bee Balm is the one. There’s nothing else like it in the garden.

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