Considered by many to be the best bedding plant in the world, pansies are an integral component of any winter garden. Come spring, their flower power is at its peak and their strikingly bold faces seem to shout out to all that winter is almost over and it is time for flowers to rule once again. Pansies are one of the few bedding plants that flower well during winter and continue into spring, even in very cold areas.
Planted from April, through winter, pansies make ideal bedding plants. Their stature, eye-catching blooms and floriferous nature make them perfect for just about anywhere in the garden, including containers and hanging baskets. As can be expected from such a popular bedding plant, there is a wide range of colours to choose from – from subtle shades of pink and blue through to antique mixes and bold reds and yellows.
There are various flower sizes to choose from. The F1 hybrid pansies come in three basic sizes: X-Large; Medium - Large and Small (not to be mistaken for the viola!). The XL pansy can flower up to the size of a small saucer. The medium/large pansies are the most common and are far more florific than the XL types. One plant can produce 400 (without deadheading) and 600 (with deadheading) flowers in its life cycle. The small pansy has the most flower power of them all with flowers of about 5-6cm in diameter.
If you plant the seedlings close to walk ways or your favourite garden bench, try planting “faced” varieties for aesthetics or to draw the eye to a specific focal point. A well known gardener plants his “faced” pansies near steps. This draws the attention of visitors so when they look at the gorgeous blooms, they will also notice the steps and not fall down them. If you are looking to bring colour to a bed that is viewed at a distance (over an expanse of lawn for example) it’s better to plant the single coloured varieties. This helps keep your perspective on a carpet of bold colour, rather than confusing the eye with an assortment of colours and tones. Pansies also make excellent bedfellows with taller growing annuals like poppies and their smaller cousins violas.
Pansies prefer a sunny position (in winter and spring – semi shade from October) – too much shade will result in the plants becoming leggy and a smaller show of flowers. Space the seedlings about 15 cm apart, in a bed that has been thoroughly turned over with a generous amount of compost added. Be sure to plant the seedlings at the same depth as they lie in their trays. Water deeply and only when the surface begins to dry out. Some gardeners think that if they water more often, it will cool down the soil, but all that does is creates waterlogged soil and encourages root diseases. Feed regularly to ensure prize blooms.
Deadheading is important as it encourages the plants to keep on pushing out more buds, giving the garden up to 7 months of colour; excellent value for money in anyone’s book. The delightfully scented blooms can be picked for miniature arrangements, or to add interest to salads (just remember not to eat more than three flowers a day). If we happen to experience a hot “Indian” (late) summer, be sure to mulch well around your newly planted seedlings as they don’t like warm soil.
Don't forget the pansy’s delightful little cousin, the viola. The main difference between the two is flower size. Pansies generally have fewer blooms per plant, but make up for it with much larger flowers. Violas have small, dainty flowers, but they are very florific. Violas can also take a bit more shade, so are perfect for brightening up dull areas.