Certainly a friendly flower that coaxes a smile, pansies (Viola spp.) thrive in the cool, moist weather of autumn, winter or spring. Typically grown as an annual, a pansy will live two to three years in a climate that is cool, frost-free and moist year round. Plant them in beds, hanging baskets and containers and enjoy the diversity of modern flower colors.
The term "pansy" loosely refers to many species in the botanical genus Viola. Garden pansies result after a series of complex breeding hybridization among many species, especially Viola tricolor, Viola lutea, Viola altacia and Viola cornuta. Today, such pansies with deeply layered lineage are simply grouped under the botanical name Viola x wittrockiana.
Small-sized violas were utilized by the Greeks for medicinal purposes as early as the 4th century B.C. In Europe, gradually a plant called a "pensee" or wild pansy was favored by gardeners since it produced slightly larger flowers in more sunny locations than the typical violas of the woodlands. The origin of the modern-day pansy centers around the breeding of Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson in early 19th century England. Their plants bore larger flowers with rounder shape and a single root from each plant. Extensive breeding during the Victorian era occurred in Scotland, Switzerland and England. In the latter half of the 20th century, the bulk of pansy breeding and variety development shifted to Germany, Japan and the United States.
The crowning glory of a pansy is its flower. Botanists regard the shape of the pansy flower as being highly developed since it has only one plane of symmetry. Each blossom comprises five petals: two lateral petals, two upward-reaching petals and a lower spurred petal. These petals range from being all one uniform color to having multiple colors, or only the lower spur petal and/or two side petals bearing additional colors. Such variability in the color display of the pansy flower leads them to be described as "faces." The deep emerald green leaves of pansies bear tiny scalloped edges and are fully overlooked, being only a lush background and nest for the colorful, large flowers.
For best garden performance, plant pansies in a fertile, moist soil. Lots of organic matter incorporated into the soil ensures excellent drainage. Full sun to partially shaded exposures are acceptable. Full sun positions supply over eight hours of direct sunlight, while partially shaded situations cumulatively provide three to four hours of shifting shade and sun across the day. Modern garden pansies produce their flowers abundantly when temperatures are cool and above freezing. Once springtime temperatures reach much above 75 to 80 degree F, their production of flower buds cease. Thus, gardeners regard pansies as "cool season annuals," fit for planting in fall, winter and early spring. Pinch off expired flowers, a process called dead-heading, to encourage new flower bud formation on each plant.
Pansies bring flower color to beds and containers during fall, winter and early spring. Pansies may be planted en masse in uniform or mixed color compositions per individual taste. Garden designers rely upon pansies to provide the backdrop for many spring flowering bulbs. Tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs are planted in autumn and then the bare ground is clothed with pansies. Pansy flowers are edible; use them in salads or crystallized with sugar for decorating pastries.