Avid gardeners often become a bit depressed as they contemplate the end of a growing season. There is, however a sure cure for the autumn blues: smiley-face pansies. They are as therapeutic for our psyche as they are beautiful to our eyes. And with their amazing ability to withstand sub-freezing temperatures, pansies extend the growing season well into late winter, and even into late spring.
The history of the modern pansy is almost as colorful as the flower itself. It began with a small European wildflower (Viola tricolor) commonly known as Johnney-jump-up. A group of aristocratic English flower fanciers began experimenting with the tiny wildflower in the early 1800’s, crossing it with other wild relatives like the yellow violet (V. lutea). By 1835 there were several hundred new hybrid crosses sporting large velvet-like two inch diameter flowers. The new hybrids quickly captured the hearts of Continental gardeners. And by the late 1800s pansy-mania had spread world-wide.
Today, pansy breeding continues at a superfast clip with giant wholesale horticulture industries such a Ball Horticulture cranking out hot-new hybrids virtually every year. Volunteers at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park recently planted twenty hybrid pansy varieties in the trialing/display area of the garden. The new varieties were donated by Southwood Landscape and Nursery of Tulsa. By late November the display should be magnificent. Come and check out the new display varieties.
Pansies perform best in rich, well-drained, full sun locations. They will, however provide an acceptable show in semi-shady areas that receive at least a half day of direct sunlight. Bare-in-mind that Pansies are extravagant bloomers that require lots of energy. Better than average fertility is needed to insure heavy and continuous flowering. I apply a slow-release fertilize such as Osmocote at planting time and I scatter additional fertilizer evenly across my pansy beds in March. Space pansies approximately six inches apart for a great looking flower display.
Pansies will flower even more profusely and longer if spent flower heads are removed. This may be impractical for gardeners who plant hundreds of plants. It’s not difficult, however to remove (dead-head) spent flowers when growing pansies in a decorative pot and/or hanging basket. If you have never grown pansies in a container, I encourage you to give it a try. Pansy hybrids are gorgeous spilling out of pots and baskets and provide a great fall look on decks and patios! To help ensure lush growth and heavy flower production, never allow container grown pansies to dry out.
Pansies are rarely affected by diseases or insects when grown in sunny well drained locations. However, mildew (caused by a fungus) may occur when pansies are grown in shady areas and excessively watered.
Gorgeous flowers and a sweet floral scent are reasons enough to grow pansies. My five year old granddaughter provided me with an even greater incentive. “Papa,” she said sporting a big angelic smile. “I love pansies almost as much as I love you.” Wow! Out of the mouth of babes. Aren’t grandkids awesome!
Barry Fugatt is Director of Horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. He may be reached at 918-576-5152 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org