by Jan Cashman 4/29/12
You can’t go wrong with pansies. We all love their smiling faces in the spring. And now, pansies are also available without faces, in intense solid colors like white, yellow, orange, blue, even black. Many are sweetly fragrant.
Pansies, considered an “annual” flower, are sometimes perennial here—in a winter with good snow cover and not-so-cold temperatures, pansies’ leaves survive under the snow. I have found that the smaller the flower on a pansy, the more likely it is to survive the winter. Tiny pansy flowers, called Johnny-Jump-Ups, survive easily for me, becoming a bit invasive in my flower beds. I am always weeding them out but I leave a few to fill in empty spaces.
There are basically 3 sizes of pansies—large-flowered with flowers 3” across or more, violas, with 1 1/4” flowers often found in solid colors, and Johnny Jump Ups with flowers 1” across or less. Johnny Jump Ups’ flowers are only combinations of purple, white, and yellow, not other colors.
Recently, spreading pansies, including a series called “Rain”, have been developed to trail in hanging baskets and containers. New, beautiful ‘Columbine’ and ‘Etain’ violas, listed as perennial, not annual, flowers are hardy to Zone 4.
Pansies (genus Viola) were found native in Europe as a small wildflower they called ‘Heartsease’ which looked like our Johnny Jump Ups. In the early 19th century, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennett brought the pansy to the attention of gardeners after cultivating Heartsease in her father’s garden in England and developing many new varieties. Other breeders followed her lead in breeding, until the improved pansy became a favorite of gardeners. The name pansy is derived from the French word “pensee” (which means ‘thought’) because the flower looks like a pensive human face.
Plant pansies in early spring–they prefer cool weather and will provide your gardens with an early show of color. Once hardened off, they can take frost. During a hot spell in the summer, pansies will bloom less. One exciting series called “Ultima Radiance”, developed to be hardy and heat tolerant, has unique flowers splashed with radiant colors of violet or pink.
In a flower bed, plant pansies in groups of three or more for a mass effect. Pansies companion well under dwarf shrubs and with perennial flowers. They work well planted around bulbs in the spring or with dusty miller and ornamental kale for a fall display. I plant pansies in my herb garden next to annual and perennial herbs. (Pansies are an edible flower, often used as a colorful salad garnish for special occasions.) A popular gardening trend today is using edible plants as ornamentals, so try planting pansies with greens like lettuce and parsely in your flower garden. Pansies will also look great in a container mixed with other shade-loving plants.
Plant pansies today and enjoy their beautiful blooms in an array of colors. You’ll love their sweet fragrance—and they’ll thrive in our cool climate.
Growing Hints for Pansies:
• Plant in an area with less than 6 hours of sun per day
• Pinch back if they become leggy
• When hot summer weather starts, cut them back to 2”
• Do not overfertilize
• Deadhead spent flowers for continuous bloom