(Viola x wittrockiana)
Nothing says spring like pansies with their wide variety of brilliant colors including every color of the rainbow plus several shades in between. Originating in continental Europe, this annual or biennial which has never gone out of fashion comes from a lot of cross-breeding and gets its botanical name from Professor Veit Brecher Wittrock, a botanist from Sweden, and its common name from the French word pensee meaning “thought”. The pansy flower resembles a human face and it nods forward in August as if in deep thought. It is said that they inspired Shakespeare to write of romance!
Quite durable and a “flower for all seasons”, the history of the pansy is linked forever to the violas and the wild pansy was observed some time after the 4th century growing in open areas with more sunlight, alpine meadows and on rocky ledges. There are clear differences between the two however including one main stem on the pansy versus branching below the ground on the viola, plus the pansy bloom is larger and more round than the viola. The pansy plant is compact with notched leaves that are oval or heart shaped. The profuse blooms are single with five petals, range from 1-5 inches in diameter and have one of three basic color patterns – single, clear color, a single color with “whiskers” or dark lines radiating from the center, and the most familiar dark center called a “face” or “blotch”. You can harvest the blooms anytime, but at least be sure to remove spent blooms to promote additional blooms and extend the blooming period. It is best to start with new plants each year either from seed started six to eight weeks before the last frost or purchased in bud or bloom and then transplanted into the garden as soon as you can put a trowel into the soil in an area that receives morning sun and has well drained soil. They are heavy feeders so prepare the garden with plenty of organic matter and mulching will help conserve moisture and reduce weeds. They also are great in containers which can be placed in full sun early and late in the season, but when its hot can be moved to more shade to baby them.
Pansies have fragrant and edible blooms with a mildly savory vegetable taste and may be used in savory and sweet dishes. Use only blooms grown without pesticides scattered in a salad of greens or fruit, suspended in aspic, incorporated into homemade pastas, candied on cakes or to simple dress up everything from soups to sorbets. Pansy blooms can even be added to ice cubes for a festive addition to summer drinks. They are very high in vitamins A & C, so they are not only attractive, but good for you too. In addition, flowers can be cut to add to small bouquets, used to dye fabric, make flavorful syrups or float in bowls.
Pansies are suitable for planting
under shrubs as a living mulch,
among bulbs, in vegetable gardens,
in window boxes or containers,
or fill an entire bed for a striking spring effect!
I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”