Bees are some of Mother Nature's smarter and stronger insects, according to Vanderbilt University's College of Art and Sciences. Intelligence guides them to the right flowers to pollinate. Strength lets them navigate the sometimes intricate entrances guarding the flowers' nectar. Their vision most clearly detects blue and violet blooms. Knowing how they "think" and see the world will help you design a garden humming with bees.
Birdfoot violet (Viola pedata) is a 4-to-10-inch perennial native to pinelands and prairies. Blooming from spring to early summer, it has multiple stems with narrow, lobed green leaves similar to birds' feet. Each stem bears a single light blue-violet to deep purple, pansy-like bloom up to 1.5 inches across. Their petals make a striking contrast with the flowers' brilliant orange anthers (pollen holders).
Bi-colored plants--with deep purple upper and pale lilac lower petals--are exceptionally beautiful, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC). All varieties of this violet attract both bees and butterflies. Give birdfoot violet partial to full shade. It likes dry, sandy well-drained soil on the acidic side (pH below 7.0). Plants in poorly drained spots are vulnerable to crown rot.
New England Aster
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) can exceed 6 feet in height. Its strong stems have dense, narrow lance-shaped leaves. From late summer to frost, it has abundant clusters of daisy-like flowers. The yellow-centered pinkish-purple blooms attract bees and Monarch butterflies. Wild plants of the prairies often put on a colorful autumn display with goldenrod. Plant where it will have room to spread. Give it part shade and moist, acidic soil, recommends the LBJWC. Divide clumps of older asters when their flower production decreases.
Swamp--or blue--verbena (Verbena hastata) is a summer to fall-flowering perennial native to moist woods and thickets across most of the United States. A strongly stemmed plant reaching from 2 to 5 feet high, it has multiple, upwardly branching stems with pencil-thin flower spikes. Bluish-purple flowers that open in ascending order encircle the spikes and draw bees to the plants. Swamp verbena grows in sun to shade and moist or wet soil, according to the LBJWC.
Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic perennial native to ponds from New England to Florida and west to Minnesota and Oklahoma. Growing with its roots submerged, it stands up to 3 feet high. Each summer-blooming plant produces a single, blue-flowered hyacinth-like spike above its heart-shaped green leaves. Like those of swamp verbena, pickerel weed's flowers open in ascending order. Bees and butterflies feed on their nectar. Pickerel weed is a good choice for aquatic gardens, according to the LBJWC. Plant it in a sun to part shady and moist or wet soil. Sandy or loamy soils or mud are best.