Skip to main content

Garden Greats -- If You're A Bumblebee!

By: Sandra Nelson


Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to spend time in five different states.trip I’d call two pure Midwestern farm country, two were Western gems and one struck me as the perfect blend of both. I loved exploring all five!


One of the most exciting things I discovered in my ramblings is that the message to protect our pollinators is not only being heard, but it is also being put into practice. In every town we visited in every one of the five states, gardens filled with native flowers were flourishing. garden And to top it off, bumblebees were slowly perusing the blossom buffets in four of the five states. (Unfortunately, one of our stops was Wyoming where bumblebees have already disappeared. I was encouraged though, to see that an effort is being made to draw them back; the Wyoming gardens were filled with bumblebee delicacies.)


Even though the gardens I saw were spread across 5 states and each had its own distinct designs, they all contained a plethora of bumblebee favorites. Some, like Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) and   Asclepias (Butterfly Weed)  were expected– the gold standards so to speak, of a pollinator friendly garden. A few, like Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Slender Mountain Mint) were fairly common garden fillers. But others however, like Dalea (Prairie Clover) were unexpected highlights that prompted a second look and a little on the spot research. 


It turns out that the few minutes of research I did was well worth the effort. I was able to add these three new options to my pollinator planting toolbox. 


Closed Gentian Gentiana andrewsii


This gem caught my eye because the tall clusters of bright blue blooms never completely open! Bumblebees crawl into the flower and shake the pollen loose. It’s comical to watch the whole procedure, but it’s also amazing to realize that this slow-moving insect knows exactly what to do to get what he needs.



Closed Gentian grows in Zones 3 to 7.  Over time, it can reach up to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide if clumps are left undisturbed. It prefers some protection against hot summer days and an average amount of moisture. In the wild, it is often found in wooded areas near ponds and streams. A great plant for a shady border. Closed Gentian puts on a show in the late summer, with blooms finally opening up.


Purple Prairie Clover  Dalea purpurea


When I think of clover, my mind immediately jumps to the white clover that I planted in my front lawn to feed the pollinators. This puts my white clover to shame;  its striking, long-blooming rose-purple flower heads are absolute pollinator magnets. Over the course of just a few minutes, I watched butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees visit a smallish clover patch. While I stood there, I had visions of how busy a huge patch would be.


prairies clover

Purple Prairie Clover thrives in zones 3 to 8. It loves the full sun and grows well in average to dry conditions. Well-drained soil is a must. Seedheads provide food for birds. 

Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum


The fragrance is what initially pulled me to this plant. I couldn’t quite place it at first, so I called my husband over and asked what he thought it was. He immediately said licorice, which made me realize it was the scent of anise which I use in some Christmas cookies. Once I identified the fragrance, then I could appreciate the spikes of lavender blooms. Quite a combination!



Anise Hyssop is found in Zones 4 to 8. When grown in part to full sun, it tends to form a small bush. Hyssop prefers well-drained soils, and will perform well in both dry and moist conditions. Deadheading will produce more flowers, but plants will self seed if conditions are right. Besides being attractive to bumblebees, hummingbirds and butterflies also love this plant.

If you’re thinking about adding a boost or fill in a hole or two in your summertime garden, thinithen why not consider adding one or two of these bumblebee delicacies. Who knows, you may just be fueling the next generation of bumblebees!