Every Blooming Thing: The humble pansy

Red Bluff Garden Club member Charlotte Rodriguez says in late winter she brings out pansies and violas for their vibrant color.

 

From my window my garden beds look brown and droopy, so one of our dry days I walked around plotting and planning how to renew the beds. It’s exciting to see buds and new leaves peeping out. In various areas, the hellebores are forming beautiful tight buds; the angel trumpets are sprouting lime green leaves; narcissus are blooming; but still, there is a certain dull look to my planters and beds.  

This time of year, I hanker for color! Yellows, reds, blues, whites.  

For color in late winter, I bring out pansies and violas. All pansies are violas, but not all violas are pansies. The pansies I purchased are white and purple, which will definitely add some zing. The differences in the cousins are:  pansy, four petals pointing upward and one down and blooms two inches or more wide; violas have two petals upward and three petals downward.  

The hardy, unassuming pansy has an interesting history. Fourth century Greece used violas for medicinal purposes.  After the fourth century the viola was discovered as a wildflower in European fields and Western Asia. Somewhere along the history timeline, someone named the diminutive flowers “pansy,” possibly derived from the French “pensée” meaning “thought.” Ancient pansies grew on one main stem and blooms were bigger than the violas.  

Today we have violas of many colors thanks to Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet and Lord Gambier and their gardeners of England who crossed a lot of viola species with the goals of different color combinations and larger sizes. A Scotsman, Dr. Charles Stewart, advanced the flower colors and hybridized no face on the flowers. By the mid-1800s the pansy gained popularity in the United States. Interesting fact, sales of the pansy seed were “more than one hundred thousand packets a year.” Early settlers placed pansies in the house for good luck. Also, they created a game called “Violet War,” whereby players hooked their flower heads and tried to pull off their competitor’s bloom to be the winner. Don’t know how violent that game was.   

Pansies may be an annual or a perennial depending on zone. My pansies and violas usually die off with the extreme heat. They do like the cooler temperatures. Now you may be thinking yours come back; actually, they reseed… Pansies can do that too.  

One of the characteristics of pansies are the variety of colors: red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. They can be one color, or have bi- or tri-colors with a face. That’s the dark center of the bloom. There’s more. In Horticulture Magazine, (November/December 2019, p. 37), Cool Wave pansies are included in an article about new varieties entering the market this year. Cool Wave pansies will cascade and bloom early to late spring and in the fall in full sun. Two new colors are Raspberry Swirl and Strawberry Swirl.  

So, to sum up the care and planting of the easy to grow pansies: plant in early to late spring and/or fall in full sun or partial shade using some compost and fertilizer. Water about once a week, or more if still blooming during hot weather. They need to be deadheaded and yellow leaves removed regularly. They are generally pest and disease free; however, slugs or snails seem to like the taste of my pansies and violas. One more tip. You will be rewarded with more flowers if you buy plants with smaller buds. 

I could go on about how you can eat pansies - petals, leaves and all. How you can freeze the petal to float in party drinks, or candy the blooms to decorate cakes, but there is so much to the modest pansy that we must agree the humble pansy may not be so humble.

Red Bluff Garden Club meets the last Tuesday of each month, social time at 12:30 p.m., with program beginning at 1 p.m. We meet at United Methodist Church in Fellowship Hall, 525 David Ave., Red Bluff.

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with the Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and Natural Garden Clubs Inc. 

 

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