Books and Bee Balm

I grew up in a rural town in Western Massachusetts, where a large patch of bee balm featured prominently in our garden each summer. One day an elderly couple, complete strangers, stopped their car to ask my father what the fiery red blooms in the garden were.

“It’s bee balm, a perennial. Would you like some?”

He dug up a clump for the pair to take to their summer home at the edge of town.

A few days later, the couple reappeared with a box of children’s books. They were retired teachers, who had noticed my siblings and me playing in the yard.

“We have collected so many books over the years, and since we are retired, we don’t need them. Would your children like some?” they asked my father.

That summer, and for many summers thereafter, the couple brought boxes of books of a variety of genres. Some were almost new; some were gently worn. Each box was a thoughtful gift.

The sight of bee balm might bring thoughts of insects, bright flower petals in a salad, or perhaps herbal tea to most people.

But me? I simply think of books.

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are especially attracted to bee balm, which is a member of the mint family. Monarda, bergamot, horsemint, and oswego tea are other names for this plant. It has many uses, being found in everything form skin salves to digestive teas to salad toppers.
Bee balm getting ready to bloom.
The blooming time for bee balm is July through late summer. Cutting back the blooms as they finish flowering will encourage regrowth and extend the blooming period.
A Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly visits.
Although bee balm likes sun, it tolerates partial shade, as shown here growing in a mix of ferns and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Vigorous bursts of bee balm contrast with the calm of the apple tree in my yard. Time to sit in the shade and enjoy a book!

15 thoughts on “Books and Bee Balm

  1. Love the photo of the Bee on the beebalm (which autocorrect keeps changing to baseball for some silly reason.) I learned a lot from your post. We have BLUE Bees here in eastern MA. Do you have them there? Best, Babsje

  2. These are beautiful flowers with an intriguing name. I have never seen them before, only on your photos. Gorgeous flowers!!!

  3. I found your bee balm story enchanting, Julie. Such a sweet story of the exchange of bee balm plant and children’s books, and then to see one of the books that you remember from one of the special boxes is wonderful. I really like bee balm, and your bb plants are beautiful, and your garden looks truly tranquil.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. I was very surprised to find that children’s book in the exact edition on ebay 55 years (!) after first reading it. 😉

  4. Lovely flowers, and lovely memories. How special it must have been to dig into these boxes and make exciting discoveries. That couple touched your and your siblings’ life in such a meaningful way. 📚

    1. I think a lot about how our world has changed since those days. My dad just dug up flowers to give to strangers. Would I do that today? Or would I just be wary of strangers? And then, the strangers came back with gifts. Would I still be wary? There seems so much more to worry about today in my suburban town…

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