by Carol Siddall, Master Gardener
To me, it is hard to imagine a garden without some pansies. These charmers have endeared themselves to gardeners for almost two centuries. You can't help but smile when you look at their cheerful "faces". They should be in our local nurseries before too long, and I know I will have to bring some home.
The pansies grown today are hybrids derived from several species of Viola. The common name "pansy" comes from the French word "pensee": a thought or reflection. This refers to the flower "face" that is created by the bold blotching and veining on the petals.
Young plants in bloom at the nurseries are the easiest to grow. Some gardeners like to germinate their own seed, but I take the lazy and easy way - buy plants already in bloom! Plant them in a sunny or lightly shaded place. Avoid too much shade as that may produce straggly growth and fewer flowers. Avoid intense sun also. Provide well drained soil and amend with compost. Routine deadheading and shearing of leggy growth improves appearance and will stop self seeding. Set your plants 6 to 12" apart and water gently. Pansies do not care for hot weather, but they thrive in cool weather. I have seen snow and some ice on mine, and I would think, oh no, they are gone. But when the snow and or ice melted, their heads were raised and as pretty as ever. Your pansies will bloom all winter in our area unless we receive an unusual cold spell lasting several days.
Pansies best feature is they are long blooming with fragrant 2 to 4 " wide flowers in pastel and deep jewel tones marked with darker "whiskers" on the face. Pansies make great garden plants as borders, but they are also ideal for window boxes and containers. Try combining them with spring or fall-blooming bulbs, or other attractive perennials.