Pansy’s are not weak little flowers. Come see the pretty pansy’s, just starting to bloom. Plant now for fall, winter and early spring color.
The pansy flower is two to three inches in diameter and has two slightly overlapping upper petals, two side petals, and a single bottom petal with a slight beard emanating from the flower’s center. The flower has been produced in a wide range of colors and bicolors. The plant may grow to nine inches in height, and prefers sun to varying degrees and well-draining soils. Pansies are biennials, but are purchased at garden centers in their second year of growth and treated as annuals by the home gardener. They are subjected to devastation by aphids, snails, and slugs, and several diseases, mostly fungal. They do not perform well in hot, muggy weather or climates.
Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennett brought the pansy to the attention of gardeners in the early years of the 19th century after cultivating every sort of V. tricolor she could procure in her father’s garden at Walton-upon-Thames. V. tricolor has known many names in the English-speaking world including heartsease, love in idleness, and flower of Jove, but the name pansy is derived from the French, pensée (thought), and was bestowed upon the plant for its resemblance to a pensive human face. The pansy has attracted the attention of poets and artists including William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The flower is a recurring motif in cultural artifacts such as embroidery designs and greeting cards.
About the same time that Lady Bennett was busy cultivating heartsease, James, Lord Gambier was doing the same in his garden at Iver under the advice and guidance of his gardener Thomson. A yellow viola, Viola lutea, and a wide-petalled pale yellow species of Russian origin, Viola altaica were among the crosses that laid the foundation for the new hybrids classed as Viola x Wittrockiana. A round flower of overlapping petals was the aim of early trials; in the late 1830s a chance sport that no longer had narrow nectar guides of dark color on the petals but a broad dark blotch on the petals (which came to be called the “face”), was found. It was developed in Gambier’s garden and released to the public in 1839 with the name “Medora”.
By 1833, there were 400 named pansies available to gardeners who once considered its progenitor, heartsease, a weed. Specific guidelines were formulated for Show Pansies but amateur gardeners preferred the less demanding Fancy Pansies. About this time, James Grieve developed the viola and Dr. Charles Stuart developed the violetta, both smaller, more compact plants than the pansy.
Pansies are generally hardy plants and will survive freezing temperatures even during their blooming season. Plants grow well in sunny or partially sunny positions in well-draining soils. Pansies are normally biennials. The first year plant produces greenery, and bears flowers and seeds in its second year of growth. Afterwards, the plant dies like an annual. Because of selective human breeding, most garden Pansies bloom the first year, some in as little as nine weeks after sowing.
Pansies are purchased as six-packs or flats of young plants from garden centers and planted directly into the garden soil. They can be grown as short-lived perennials but are usually treated as biennials or annuals because they become leggy as they age. Plants will grow up to nine inches (23 cm) in height with flowers measuring two to three inches (about 6 cm) in diameter, though smaller and larger flowering cultivars are available.
Pansies are winter hardy in zones 4-8. They can survive light freezes and short periods of snow cover, but, in areas with prolonged snow cover, a covering of a dry winter mulch is recommended. In warmer climates, zones 9-11, Pansies can bloom over the winter, and are often planted in the fall. In warmer zones, Pansies may re-seed themselves and return the next year. Pansies are not very heat-tolerant; warm temperatures inhibit blooming and hot muggy air causes rot and death. In colder zones, Pansies may not survive without snow cover or protection (mulch) from extreme cold or periods of freezing and thawing. Pansies perform best in zones with moderate temperatures, and equal amounts of mild rainfall and sunshine.
Pansies, for best growth, are watered thoroughly about once a week, depending on climate and rainfall. The plant should never be overwatered. To maximize blooming, plant foods are used about every other week, depending on the type of food used. Regular deadheading can extend the blooming period.
A German fable tells of how the pansy lost it perfume. Originally pansies would have been very fragrant, growing wild in fields and forests. It was said that people would trample the grass completely in eagerness to pick pansies. Unfortunately, the people’s cows were starving due to the ruined fields, so the pansy prayed to give up her perfume. Her prayer was answered, and without her perfumed scent, the fields grew tall, and the cows grew fat on the fresh green grass.
American pioneers thought that “a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.” On account of its place in American hearts, a game called “Violet War” also arose. In this game, two players would intertwine the hooks where the pansy blossoms meet the stems, then attempt to pull the two flowers apart like wishbones. Whoever pulled off the most of their opponent’s violet heads was proclaimed the winner. Young American settlers also made pansy dolls by lining up the pansy flower “faces”, pasting on leaf skirts and twig arms to complete the figures.