Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2011
Regional Report

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Fizzy Lemonberry pansies with frilly, blue-fringed petals are a cheery face of spring.

Violas and Pansies!

Smile! Bet you can't resist the cheerful, bright, yellow, purple, and white face of the Johnny jump-up! How about pansies -- the 'Delta' blues, the pastel 'Antique Shades', or the primary colors of 'Supreme'?

Last week 'Fizzy Lemonberry' pansies, with their frilly, blue-fringed petals, made me swoon. I planted them around creamy yellow primroses in glazed containers outdoors. A few shiny curly willow stems gave height and whimsy. Voila! The client sold her home at the first open house. Of course, the colorful pansies in pots on the porch and between daffodils in the flower beds put potential buyers in a good mood.

I wish for everyone clusters of soft, lavender-blue 'Penny Marlies' violas with yellow chins Every first glance makes my heart leap. My eyes linger and search, savoring their simple beauty.

Pansies and violas are emotional flowers. Or rather they elicit strong emotions. Maybe because they're among the first to bloom after the long winter. We're so ready for spring tonic, a burst of pure joy. The name "pansy," though, derives from the cerebral -- the Middle English "pancy," from Old French "pensee," meaning thought or remembrance.

I've enjoyed a casual fling with the pansy for decades. Walking by, admiring the heart-shaped petals, disdaining some colors, awestruck at other shades and faces, impulsively buying at any price. The relationship deepened when dozens of Johnny jump-ups poked their pretty heads above the dull gravel in a city backyard. I'd started some from seed in a cold frame the year before. The following spring's show was quite a wonderful, extended surprise. They'd self-seeded with abandon -- sometimes one plant, other times in groups, popping up throughout the summer until that winter's first snow.

Viola? Garden Pansy?
Johnny jump-up is a Viola tricolor. The viola is a perennial with several stems and flowers on one plant. Viola flowers are smaller than the garden pansy. The viola dates to 400 BC when the Greeks valued its medicinal qualities.

The garden pansy is younger. In the early 1800s, English gardener William Thompson crossed various viola species with Viola tricolor, to create the garden pansy, now classified as Viola x wittrockiana. A pansy has a single stem on a single plant. 'Fizzy Lemonberry' is a Viola x wittrockiana cultivar. It's a cool season, early spring and autumn-blooming variety with cousins 'Fizzy Fruit Salad Mix' and 'Fizzy Grape'.

Plant pansies shoulder-to-shoulder for a full display. Deadhead for continual flowering till summer's heat shuts flowering down. In the Philadelphia area, pansies tend to die out from the heat so we remove them and plant summer-blooming annuals instead. Many newer cultivars survive winters though. So we plant them in autumn for flowering until a hard frost. In early spring, we carefully clip off the dead foliage and fertilize. Look closely and you'll see flower buds ready to unfurl.

Violas and pansies are edible, though you wouldn't want to nibble on a pansy from the store or commercial nursery. You don't know what pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers were used on them. Violas fresh from your garden are fine in salads, as garnish, on sandwiches, and in soups, pasta, fish, chicken. They taste like new peas.

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