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A winter dandy, here’s the pansy!
Derived from the Viola species, pansies have been a favourite of gardeners since the early nineteenth century, when Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, with the help of her gardener, William Richardson, cross-bred and developed the flower.
Also known as heartsease, love in idleness, or the flower of Jove, pansy translates from the French for ‘thought’ – its name due to the flower’s resemblance to a face deep in contemplation.
In the first year, pansies will produce greenery, followed by flowers and seeds in their second year. They are available in a rich array of colours, and usually grow to around 7cm in diameter.
How, where and when to plant:
Early autumn is the right time to begin planting pansy seedlings; ensuring colour in the garden later in the year.
First, sow the seeds – or leave them to germinate - in punnets, using a quality seed-raising mix. Keep the punnets in a warm and lightly shaded location. Allow roughly three to four weeks for germination.
Choose a section of the garden that receives full sun to light shade (in hotter regions) and prepare the soil by digging in a general garden fertiliser. The soil will need to be free-draining with ample mulch and compost.
If planting in containers, use potting mix with a soil-wetter, such as Saturaid, to help direct water to the plant’s roots.
Use soluble fertilisers, applying them approximately once every two weeks. A little blood and bone or general garden fertiliser will also encourage healthy blooms.
During the colder months it’s all too easy to expect Mother Nature to provide all the watering our garden needs. However, keep an eye on the skies and regularly reach for that watering can, particularly during dryer spells.
To grow pansies successfully it’s essential to dead-head. Dead-heading encourages new blooms to blossom throughout winter and removing dead flower heads is even more important in wetter weather.
As pansies are quite cold-hardy they can tolerate low temperatures and frosts.
How to use:
While pansies can be used to great effect in brightening up homes during winter, their flowers and leaves are edible so they can be used as a tasty and interesting winter salad garnish.
In ‘Intimations of Immortality’ William Wordsworth, whose words, incidentally, are worth quite a bit, shows the pansy as a symbol of lasting life. In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of William Shakespeare’s characters, the mischievous Puck, used pansies to make people fall in love with the next creature they saw.
Ultimately though, while artists may contemplate, gardeners get growing, producing pansies to bring colour that shakes the gloom of winter.