Pansies were first cultivated in England in the 1830s. Recognized by their "faces," pansies enjoy a large following among gardeners, and they are hardy and colorful. The many varieties come in colors ranging from shades of yellow and orange to white, red and purple. They are a hybrid of the viola tricolor species.
Meaning of the Name
The word "pansy" can be traced back to the French word "pensee," meaning thought. Its turned-down "face" appears to resemble the face of a person thinking. It also evokes feelings of happiness and is a symbol of merriment. Whatever the origin, the name "pansy" has been used since this cousin of the viola was first released to the public in 1839.
Easy to Grow
Pansies thrive in most areas of Europe and North America. They are planted for winter and spring bloom in many areas and can tolerate cold weather. Since pansies are not demanding, they can be planted in most climates in pots or in the ground. In mild climates pansies are grown outdoors year-round for their bright, cheerful blooms.
Pansies are technically biennial plants that bloom the second year after planting and should be replaced after a couple of years. The stems get long and unattractive after a season of bloom, but they can be cut back and new growth will produce flowers.
Diseases and Pests
Few diseases and pests bother pansies. They can be controlled best by watching the plants and noticing any signs of disease. Yellow leaves caused by root mold or spots on the leaves can be seen right away. Usually they are caused by over-watering or wet, humid weather. Be sure the drainage is good and avoid frequent watering to prevent these diseases.
Monitor your pansies for visible signs of slugs or aphids. Remove the slugs, and wash off the aphids with soapy water.
Pansies are hardy enough to overcome most problems if you notice and correct them right away.
Fragrant, Edible Flowers
The most fragrant pansies are the blues and yellows. The scent is distinctive and delicate---a little hint of wintergreen and perfume.
The leaves and flowers are both edible with a taste like mild wintergreen. Pansies were grown by the ancient Greeks for medicinal use. They are high in vitamins C and A. The flowers are used as a garnish on soups and salads and can be placed on cakes and molded cheeses. Some people freeze pansies in ice cubes for an elegant addition to iced tea or lemonade.
Pansies have been used in ointments to relieve skin problems like eczema.
Many Varieties of Pansy
When you are looking for pansy plants, you will have many choices based on flower size, fragrance and color combination. Choose the flowers that you find most appealing. All colors are available: orange, white, purple, purple-yellow combination, red, dark purple (often called black), blue and blue-yellow combination. If fragrance is important, smell the flowers until you find a fragrant variety---the flowers will be blue and yellow.
Various flower sizes are available. Some are large and showy, while others are smaller and more delicate. All are cheerful and sure to add a colorful accent in your garden.