Photo and article by Donna Iverson
If you like colorful, frost resistant, multicolored flowers on your doorstep at the first whiff of spring, pansies are an excellent choice.
Pick up a six pack at your local garden center, pop them into a planter with some potting soil, water, and set in a sunny location. Then enjoy weeks of continuous bloom with an assortment of colors like orange, pink, blue, purple, red, yellow and even black. Pansy flower faces add to their charm.
Pansies need regular watering and feeding. Occasionally you may also need to deadhead faded flowers. They are difficult to grow from seeds, so best to buy seedlings and pot them up, or plant them along borders in your garden or yard,
Pansies are native to Europe where they grew as wildflowers called heart’s ease, or wild pansy. In the 1800s, British gardeners began hybridizing these small wildflowers to increase their size and color combinations. Gardeners like Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet who began offering her hybridized pansies for sale in 1812 and they quickly spread to gardens throughout England.
Pansies symbolize thoughtfulness and remembrance as in “thinking of you.” It’s name is derived from the French word pensee meaning thought, opinion or idea. There are many varieties of pansies with names like Jolly Joker, Princess, and Bingo Ice.
Pansies have also found their way onto dining room tables where they are used to garnish salads and deserts. Personally, I avoid eating pansies as their little faces seem too humanlike to consume.
As for those who prefer native plants, a relative of the pansy, called Johnny-jump-up, is a wildflower indigenous to the southern US. It is yellow and purple, smaller than the pansy, and more tolerant of heat. It is also easier to grow from seed. Guerrilla gardeners might enjoy spreading their wild pansy seeds in waste places much like the woman in the children’s picture book Miss Rumphius.
She was partial to lupines.