Pansies are beloved for their hardy and colorful flowers that brighten up the winter in all but the coldest regions of the South and Central Coast. Their five petals open up flat, and since most of the varieties have dark blotches on the three lower petals with the remaining two petals another color, the flowers look like little faces. The familiar garden pansies are in the genus Viola, but their parentage may be quite varied. Since they are so agreeable and easy to grow, there are dozens of different strains with particular color themes. Here are a few.
Majestic Giants have the typical brownish-purple blotch on the lower three petals and come in all the primary colors and shades. Ruffled Feathers and Can-cans are equally bright, but have a frilly edge on their petals. The Carolina Giants are even more frilled and crimped and tend toward pinks and reds rather than orange and yellow. The Antique Shades mix in the Imperial Series are delicate shades of yellow, pink, and coral with golden veining in place of the gaudy blotches. Another mix called Ice Cream replicates all of your favorite flavors from vanilla to raspberry to peach to cherry. The Lace Series combines deep colors with a pure white or yellow edging. Touch of Bronze pansies are shades of violet and mauve with a brushing of bronze and veining. The list could go on and on.
There are some single selections that merit a mention, too. ‘Sky Blue’ is that particular shade of blue that one sees only on a very clear and dry day here along the coast. ‘Padparadja’ is deepest orange, while ‘Black Devil’ is one of the blossoms that comes closest to pure black of any flower (keep Halloween around a little longer by planting them together). Some look like butterflies-‘Karma Blue Butterfly’ is one of the newest and ‘Ultima Morpho’ replicates the pale blue and yellow of the rare morpho butterfly of Costa Rica. ‘Tiger Eyes’ is clear orange with black veining on the lower petals; a lot like those favorite marbles from your youth. The color combinations can be subtle like those in the ‘Watercolors’ group or quite bold like the deep purple and intense orange of ‘Jolly Joker.’
Some pansies are also scented like their cousins the violets, so if you are buying plants, give them a sniff, too, as you make your choices. Nurseries should have plants for sale through the next few months, but you can still sow seed in mild areas. To get them started quickly, germinate them indoors and then transplant into the garden or containers. Most pansies grow on bushy plants to 8 inches or so, although there are some dwarf varieties and a few that can trail over the edge of a wall or pot. All will do well if you keep the flowers (with some foliage) picked, so make nosegays for you and your friends to add some color and cheer to your home.