In early spring, and again in fall, I pot up bright cheerful pansies and violas in containers of all kinds. The potting soil in containers is warm enough for the plants to thrive, and it adds a bright spot in the spring landscape. You can plant these beauties in almost anything that holds a smidgen of soil, and they look great. I usually plant mixed violas in an old-fashioned metal laundry tub by my kitchen door. The mass of flowers makes the old utilitarian tub look almost respectable and the waist-high container brings the flowers up where I can really enjoy them.
Microclimate Effects. These cool-season bloomers thrive on my sheltered, south-facing patio, where the microclimate offers protection against cold nights and raw wind. But when temperatures start to rise, this area becomes almost Mediterranean in climate, baking in reflected heat from the brick and rock. Then the cool-season flowers-pansies, violas, primroses, trailing lobelia, and sweet alyssum-will collapse in protest, and I'll refresh the tub with heat loving verbena and nicotiana.
A Cooler Exposure. This year, I've decided to be smart and plant the violas in portable containers (12 inches or less in diameter) so I can lift and move them off the hot patio when they begin to suffer. Then I'll put them on the east side of the house, where the morning sun provides just enough light and the afternoon shade keeps them cool. In that kinder, gentler location, they may even survive until fall (as long as I remember to water them!). As cool temperatures return in the fall, the violas will begin blooming again, and I can move them back to the patio for a fall color show or replant more pansies.
Best Portable Pots. As I searched for containers, I was reminded how pansies lend themselves to a romantic Victorian look, while the simpler violas are versatile and brighten up any setting. By mixing colors or following a monochrome scheme, you can arrange them to suit almost any style or taste. My smaller, portable containers would also make excellent "Happy Spring" gifts, but that's only if I can bear to part with them.
Photography by Barbara Martin/National Gardening Association.