The enduring allure of a hidden garden
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The enduring allure of a hidden garden

The allure of a hidden garden never stales.

The wonders and creativity of a secret potager fleetingly glimpsed from the top of a bus never fail to arouse my curiosity.

How it feasts my fascination. Mostly, I am used to visiting and viewing domestic gardens (by invitation) but those behind high walls or curtained with evergreen screens must, I feel, be places of indescribable wonder and serenity which unfortunately, I cannot access.

Secure in the knowledge that entry may only be gained through a door in the wall (but not by you or me) the scene I suspect is far from the mundane contemporary.

Were it possible, I would delight in grabbing you by the wrist and leading you through that door, down the pathways and along terraces, which, more than likely, have few equals.


At this time of the year they must certainly be rich with red and blue and purple: Caryopteris, Michaelmas daisies, Sedums, and Dahlias.

In dappled shade hostas probably cool the scene alongside neighbouring Tricyrtis formosana boasting its petite, orchid-like blooms, and mysterious purple spotted growths.

All these charming plants flatter and comply, and bees in their droves are drawn to feast on voluminous groupings but especially on mounds of scarlet Monarda, an old fashioned, richly scented perennial in the mint family.

Also called Bergamot, Bee balm or Oswego tea, the plants have aromatic leaves which some like to use in the brewing of tea.

Native to the North Carolina mountains it flowers in late summer holding scarlet blooms atop stems which rise to a metre or so.

Highly attractive to bees and butterflies (and in its natural mountainous home, hummingbirds) it can flower on its square stems, for up to eight weeks.

Monardas prefer well-drained ground and a rich soil in full sun but in partial shade they tend to spread readily. Once established however, it is trouble free requiring little or no maintenance.


Deadheading the spent blooms will prevent seeds from self-sowing and it also encourages the plants to continue to flower into September.

As to its perfume, there is no mistaking it. Simply crush or rub the leaves and a wonderful scent of oregano with hints of mint and thyme will rise to greet you.

Short, multi-branched plants are encouraged by pinching out the lengthening stems when they appear in spring. The process is the same as that undertaken with fuchsias.

Monarda can spread rapidly via underground stems or stolons when grown as outlined in shade so keep the clumps in open situations.

These clumps can also die out within a few years so to prevent this, their ultimate spread, and encourage rejuvenation it is usually necessary to dig and divide the plants every three years or so.