I have a passion for pansies. From the little Johnny jump ups to the beautiful giants, pansies have a place in my garden and in my home. Their happy little faces cheer us at a time of year when the sight of a flower is just what we need to banish memories of winter. Their enthusiasm for spring is not dampened by frost or even a light snow.
The pansy, also called "love in idleness," "hearts ease" and the "humble violet." was also thought of as a symbol of remembrance. In Scotland the pansy is sometimes called the stepmother. The large lower petal is the mother, the two middle petals her daughters and the two smaller petals at the top her step daughters.
In the early 1800s English nursery men William Richardson and James Lee, via cross breeding, introduced a large number of pansy plants and by 1833 there were almost 400 named pansies. Around this time the small viola and even smaller violetta were developed.
Present day horticulturists have developed the many single colors and bi colors available in our garden centers. These colors include yellow, gold, orange, purple, violet, red, white and even the near-black which is really a very dark purple. The dark marks on the petals or face markings give the pansy its friendly personality.
Today we consider the term pansy to mean a bedding plant with large, multicolored flowers and we use the term viola to refer to the smaller and more delicate pansy like plants. The bedding pansy can grow to 9 inches in height, does well in light sun to part shade and in soil that is well drained. Flowers can be purchased as six packs or flats, and are planted directly into the soil. Pansies can survive light freezes and short periods of snow cover. In zones 9-11 (we are zone 4 or 5) pansies are a winter flower and are planted in the fall.
Pansies should be fertilized every two weeks and watered thoroughly about once a week. The gardener can extend bloom time by regular deadheading. The more you pick your pansies the more they will bloom. I also find the bloom time is longer in a container than in the border.
I like to plant my pansies in April in a container near the door. If it snows they can easily be moved to the protection of the porch. Pansies are a spring flower and will faint and stop blooming in the heat of summer. If I have them in a container, I can move them in July when they stop blooming to an out of the way place where they can be cut back. I continue to water and fertilize through the summer to encourage them to start blooming again in the cooler days of autumn.
After a long cold winter, a little bouquet of pansies makes a charming bouquet on an end table. Place your pansies in a vase of cool water as soon as they are picked and place them in a cool place for several hours. This will allow the stems to absorb water and become easier to arrange. I like to use a small container with a small opening. Place the short stemmed flowers around the outer edge and the longer stems in the center. The longer stemmed flowers will anchor the short stems. Another possibility is to float the pansies in a decorative bowl. The addition of floating candles makes the pansies a lovely focal point. When choosing my pansy bouquets I like to keep pastel colors in one arrangement and the more vibrant colors in another vase. However pink and dark purple are a beautiful combination as is an arrangement of one beautiful blossom and a sprig of English ivy.
Pansies are edible flowers. The make a beautiful garnish for a spring dessert or they can be scattered in a garden salad. Before you use the flowers make sure they are clean and have had no contact with pesticides.
My mother and grandmother taught my sister and I to garden. I can remember Mother putting 2 six packs of pansies in my hands, along with a well-worn garden trowel. Our pansies were always planted in the border beside the summer house. Mother showed me how to tease the little plants out of the flat, dig a small hole and carefully tuck in the pansies. After they were planted, we watered and waited. All spring I tended my pansies, watering, weeding and carefully picking little bouquets for the house. Thus began my lifelong passion for pansies in my garden and in my home.