While winter is still upon us, we should take a look at another remarkable plant for the cool season. Like the Primrose in our last post, the Pansy is strong as well.
There are three of the Viola species commonly used. They are Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana), Johnny Jump-up (Viola tricolor) and Horned or Tufted Violet (Viola cornuta). For the sake of room, we’ll look at the Pansy, aka monkey face flowers. This unique patterned bloom has had a role in history, cultural arts, literature, and film. Noteworthy for old movie buffs is the mystical scene from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland featuring a chorus of singing Pansies. Whether the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms was a factor, the Pansies made a memorable presence.
Years ago, tough talk on the playground consisted of hurling insults and disparaging remarks like being called, God forbid – a Pansy. Though the implication was being weak and wimpy, considering this plant, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Pansy is one tough little trooper.
We will assume that somewhere out there, there’s a remote study on the flower being tested for military body armor. In the meantime, it is safe to say being called a Pansy is appropriate for Rey Skywalker, Dwayne Johnson, or one of those Ram tough trucks in the commercials.
Pansies are conveniently compact and colorful, making them a perfect fit for mass plantings in color display beds as well as in baskets, containers and window boxes. Depending on the location and the climate, different planting strategies are employed. They can be planted as an annual, biennial, or perennial. In milder areas, typically Zone 6 and above, fall planting is an option, providing color through the autumn months. In areas where soil temperatures are sustained below 45 F for several months, a protective layer of mulch will protect them through winter. When the warmth returns in spring, the Pansies, already planted and rooted, come alive.
In the north, we often treat them as annuals for fall color and then witness them endure and flower until consumed by snow. Sadly, like the Donner Party, many succumb to the cruelty of winter. Nevertheless, we move forward and undaunted in the following April. We promptly return to our faithful garden centers and purchase a new batch of Pansies. It is at this time when I feel the Pansy can provide the most impact to the mid and northern states. Pansies effectively bring a colorful bloom to the early spring garden and landscape without the worry of a killing frost. For many of the spring flowers – the frost is devastating, but to the Pansies, they say, “Bring it on baby – bring it.”
Each year brings better and more impressive Pansy varieties from the plant breeders. Pansies of past years would fade and fizzle with the onset of warmer weather. In most areas, Pansies disappear by mid-summer. The newer generation of F1 hybrids: Majestic Giants, Grandio, Regal, Imperial and Crown series show far better heat tolerance. Depending on your location, as here in Michigan, some of the new varieties survive the summer, especially if in partial shade. Cold as well as heat tolerance, a great array of colors and bigger blooms than ever, make this little plant worth having.