HOW TO GROW PANSIES
An old favourite with a romantic past
LIKE a kaleidoscope of appealing faces, colourful pansy flowers peer up at us from beds, borders and containers, almost year round. I’ve long abandoned trying to keep up with the constant stream of new hybrids and tend to just focus on enjoying the shades and patterns. Bizarrely, my personal favourites are at opposite ends of the pansy spectrum. I love the tiny heartsease (Viola tricolor), an ancestor of the modern hybrids, and also the biggest, showiest, most sumptuous pansies with ruffled petals, such as ‘Rococo’ and ‘Frizzle Sizzle’.
The name pansy derives from the French ‘pensée’ and in the Victorian language of flowers translates as ‘thought’ or ‘to think’. Messages conferred via blooms and bouquets were often amorous, and receiving pansies would mean your lover was thinking of you. Specific colours or different flowers could be added to interpret the direction of these thoughts.
Wild or tricolor pansies (V. tricolor) have a collection of appealing names. ‘Heartsease’ is well known but what about ‘Three faces under a hood’ or ‘Johnny jump up’? They are often hybridised with the field pansy (V.
arvensis) with variable outcomes. Mysteriously, we used to have plenty here, seeding themselves gently around the garden, but they have recently disappeared. I miss their random germination and will sow some replacements. They were never a nuisance and easy to remove if necessary. Sometimes these heartsease behave like annuals and die away quickly, but when the weather is kind they’ll be short-lived perennials, opening their perky violet, blue and yellow flowers from spring to autumn.
I grow the showier, larger-flowered pansies a few to a pot of 50:50 John Innes No2 and soilless potting compost. During the summer I feed established plants with a high-potash liquid fertiliser and dead-head them regularly.
Pansies come in various colours and a range of sizes to suit every taste The tiny heartsease (Viola tricolor) is an ancestor of the modern hybrids