Don’t Be Such a Pansy! Wait, Yes, Be One.


I couldn’t find much about how that idiom came to be, but we all know it means “don’t be such a wimp.” A couple of weeks ago, as I was browsing my local garden nursery, I thought the meaning of that idiom was interesting, actually downright inaccurate, because pansies are hardy little flowers. They grow best in part-sun in cool conditions, and they continually bloom for several months at a time. This makes them the perfect flower to brighten up a pot in winter.

Pansies are from the genus Viola and usually the large-faced ones we see most often Viola x wittrockiana. These are the pansies that come in blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, white, and subtle combinations of each. Their color is rich and the petals are velvety soft. Some cultivars can even take a bit of snow. Pansies are susceptible to some fungal diseases (and will get munched on by slugs), but overall, they’re carefree. They like moisture and so our rainy winters are perfect for them. If you plant some in a flower box under an eave (and water it regularly), you’ll have blooms all winter long.

Pansies are sold as annuals because even though they’re perennials, they get leggy and don’t like heat. That’s why by April they’re gone from the nurseries and replaced by petunias, their long-blooming, summer counterpart. They’re sometimes confused with Viola tricolor, which are the smaller-headed, purple-yellow flowers often commonly called Violets. I like these more delicate flowers but when I need to make a container with impact, an arrangement that will catch the eye from far away, I always choose Pansies.

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