There was a time in my life where I really didn’t respect the pansy*.
Dotting landscapes in front of retail strips all across America, they just seemed too showy and dainty for my tastes. I like plants that can duke it out through the worst of seasons and survive. Pansies seemed to be a placeholder for zinnia season and I wasn’t going to waste my money.
More recently, though, I’ve come around to their colorful faces. The cheery yellows and purples are welcome sights in the middle of a gray winter. If we can’t have sun we should at least have their cheerful petals to brighten the days.
The flowers can wear a coat of frost and still look fantastic. Forget to water them for a bit and they’re fine. (You don’t want to drown their roots, though, so make sure they have well-draining soil.) They don’t complain about a little bit of shade but show off even more in full sun. And those colors! I think there are prettier and prettier colors every year; from deep plums to palest of oranges, the faces dappled with several colors at once, like a calico Muppet. Once their brilliance fades, just pinch off the flower head to encourage more blooms.
If you have a good source of pansies that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, you can even eat the flowers. Is it a coincidence they thrive in winter and are chock full of Vitamin C? To me, they taste like bland lettuce, so I toss them in salads. Other ideas include topping cupcakes with flowers or freezing the blooms in ice cubes for an especially pretty cocktail.
If you, like me, haven’t fully appreciated the power of the pansy, take a closer look next time you’re at the nursery. Their cheerful demeanor can win over the most curmudgeonly of gardeners.
*For both simplicity and alliteration in my title, I’m lumping pansies and violas into one big happy group. They are, in fact, both in the viola family.