Real Men Plant Pansies
It is right and proper at this time to pay our respects to the pansy (Viola x wittrochiana). Actually, I am about to pull all the pansies out of my containers and replace them with summer annuals, but I will throw them onto the compost pile with only the sincerest regard.
Any annual that can be bought cheaply in flats is subject to a certain amount of sneering, but not from me. (I like annuals that can be bought cheaply in flats. In fact, if it can be bought in flats I make it a point not to buy it in any smaller quantity.) Moreover, “pansy” has been used as a term of contempt, but I think that usage has become obsolete.
The fact is, pansies have many admirable virtues:
- Pansies are rugged. They stand up to cold, even hard frosts.
- Pansies are self-reliant. They require no special coddling.
- Pansies are adaptable. They grow in sun or shade.
- Pansies contribute to the greater good. From early spring on, few flowers can do more to animate the garden with long-lasting splashes of color, either exciting or soothing.
Pansies have only one serious weakness, and that is heat. Perhaps this is where the expression “shrinking violet” comes from. They cannot stand up to heat, but no annual can thrive in all conditions.
Some people prefer the pansy “faces”, but I think overall I like the solid color ones best. I like to plant lots of white and yellow pansies in spring containers, to echo the Narcissi. In containers near the front door I like to mix pansies with stock (Matthiola incana), which has a wonderful fragrance.
Pansies are hybrids derived from wild violet species (Viola sp.). The name pansy comes from the French pensee, or thought. At one time it was considered a symbol of remembrance. Actually, this is a flower that has collected a large number of common names around the world, including:
- England: Heart’s ease, love in idleness.
- Germany: Stepmother
- Italy: Little flame.
- Hungary: Small orphan.
- Israel: Amnon and Tamar. This is possibly the strangest of the common names, as Amnon and Tamar are characters from a very violent Old Testament story.
Do you plant pansies in the spring? How do you use them?