PANSY…Flower of Love and Thought

I love strolling through my yard, looking at the garden, pulling weeds if needed (LOL), and watching nature and all things grow. I think gardening is in my genes. My grandmother was an avid gardener with her cottage garden as was my father with his vegetable garden. It keeps you busy with a purpose, shows you how to care, and be gentle with the earth…an amazing feeling of accomplishment. It also permits me to get unapologetically dirty and I´m good at it!

These strolls give me time to enjoy the flowers and one of my favorite cool-season ones is the Pansy ´Viola tricolor´. I´m not the only one, several authors have favored the pansy, too; like Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning who have written about them. Many believed that when near pansies one could hear their lover’s thoughts. And so, it became a popular ingredient in love potions.

Pansies were a fashionable Victorian flower and supposed to be the flower of lovers. Legend has it that pansies could transfer thoughts of sweethearts without spoken words. The word ´pansy´ is reported to be derived from the French word, ´pensee´ which translates as ´remembrance´ or ´thoughts´. Thus, when a bouquet of pansies is given to you, it means, “I´m thinking of you. “

As for its history, the viola had its roots throughout Europe during the 4th century B.C. In the early 1800s, an English noble, Lord Gambier, and his gardener, William Thompson, began crossing various species of viola. Their hard work paid off; by the mid-1800s, a new variety of pansy was developed with bigger flowers and unique colorful faces. Within 50 years, the pansy made it to America, and it´s popularity soared. By 1888, it had become the most popular flower to grow from seeds. And today is considered the favorite flower of the world.

As far as growing them, they are a great cool weather flower…growing and blooming in fall, less in winter, and back again in spring blooming prolifically. The biggest mistake made is planting them too soon. If the ground is too hot the roots will suffer. Then the plants can´t make it through cold spells. Nurseries are just starting to bring in pansies so now is a good time to start your planting.

These hardy plants grow well in sunny locations and bloom best when there is ample water, but do not tolerate wet feet. You can’t hurry gardens for they grow in their own time, but a little fertilizer never hurt a plant. Pansies are heavy feeders, so a blooming flower fertilizer should be applied every 2 to 3 weeks…I usually use Miracle Grow combined with fish emulsion. Regular deadheading can extend the blooming period too. Few pests bother pansies, slugs and snails are the worst.

So as William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet Prince of Denmark, “Pray you, love, remember and there are pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Now you can see these little flowers have come a long way. Like everything in the world of horticulture, there is a story…and pansies are no exception!■

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