The pansy is one of the most popular flowers in the garden! Despite their delicate name and appearance, pansies are hardy, disease-resistant and do well in cooler climates. Plus, they are low maintenance and easy to grow!
The pansy is a member of the Viola family and is easily recognized. The round flowers have five petals and come in a wide variety of colours ranging from bright pink to pure white. Flowers can a be a single solid colour, while others have black lines radiating from the center. The most familiar-looking pansies, like the ones pictured above, will have a dark center that looks like a “face.” Leaves can be oval or heart-shaped. They grow to be 8-10 inches tall.
Some pansies have a delicate scent to them, with the scent being the strongest early in the morning and at dusk. Pansies are some of the earliest blooming flowers, blooming in late fall, early winter and early spring.
Although pansies are technically perennials, they are often treated as annuals or biennials. They will look beautiful in both garden beds and containers, adding a burst of colour to the landscape. Be sure to plant flowers at least 6 inches apart in fertile, moist soil to allow for proper ventilation. Mulching will help keep the soil moist. Pansies prefer full to partial sun. They should be watered about once or twice a week and should be fertilized once a month. As well, don’t forget to remove dead blooms to encourage new growth.
Pansies are one of the earliest flowering plants, blooming right alongside the spring bulbs. The name pansy is from the French word pensie, meaning thought or remembrance. The pansy is a delicate looking flower often with a “face”.
Fun Flower Facts about the Pansy
- in the language of flowers, the pansy represents thoughts of lovers
- pansies are one of the oldest cultivated flowers in history
- the pansy was particularly popular in the 19th century and was commonly used in “love potions”
- pansies are edible and have a minty flavour; they can be added to salads and desserts
- yellow and blue pansies seem to have the strongest scent
- the flower can be used as a natural dye
- pansy petals are often used in potpourri
- Both the leaves and flowers of pansies and violas are edible and high in vitamins A and C. The flowers impart a strong flavor and have been used to make syrup, flavored honey, and salads. Both the leaves and flowers can be used as a garnish, such as on cold fruit or cream soups.
Pansies bloom in winter and spring when temperatures are cool.
Colorful annuals with markings that resemble faces, pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are mainstays of the fall and winter garden. Planted in fall in Mediterranean climates where winters are mild, these cheerful little flowers bloom for months until warm weather returns. As temperatures increase, pansies cease to bloom and the foliage begins to look worn and ragged. Replace them with summer annuals when they no longer look their best.
Most pansies grow 8 to 10 inches tall and are covered with oval or heart-shaped, dark green, shiny foliage. The attractive foliage makes an excellent backdrop for the colorful flowers that can be as large as 3 inches across. The blossoms come in a wide range of colors and consist of a pair of upper petals and one larger lower petal. Often marked with rays that extend outward from the center. the petals sometimes have startling contrasts in color. They grow best in temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit but can survive temperatures as low as -10 F.
Types of Pansies
There are three types of pansies that are commonly grown in the U.S. Large-flowered pansies are the traditional types and the ones most often grown in the garden; the blossoms are about three inches across and usually have markings that resemble faces. Johnny Jump Up types are smaller, about an inch in diameter, and appear with faces or in solid colors; they are derived from V. tricolor and are more heat tolerant than large-flowered pansies. Panolas are a cross between traditional pansies and Johnny Jump Ups. They have the heat tolerance of Johnny Jump Ups, but their flowers, which are usually solid colors, are almost twice the size.
Pansies bloom best in full sun, but afternoon shade helps them last longer in warm climates. They need a moist, slightly acidic soil with good drainage. They thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 2 through 9. In Zones 8 and 9, plant them in October or November when the soil is cool, and expect up to eight months of blooms. You may have success growing pansies in warmer zones where winter and spring temperatures are mild.
Pansies like a soil that is moist but not soggy. Water when there are less than two inches of rainfall in a week and apply mulch around the plant to prevent evaporation. Use a water-soluble liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks while the plants are growing and blooming; high-nitrogen fertilizers may result in tall, leafy plants with few blooms. Deadhead the plants regularly to promote a fresh flush of flowers. Pinch back the plants when they show signs of legginess.
Though we call them “Pansies,” they are anything but wimpy. One of the toughest flowers, Pansies are perfect in our climate. They come packed with history, folklore, symbolism and fun facts.
The Meaning of the Names:
The website flowerforyou.org tells us that the Victorian meaning of Pansy is “to think,” particularly of love. If a maiden found a honeyflower and a pansy left for her by an admirer, it would mean “I am thinking of our forbidden love” in symbol rather than in writing. However, it is considered a bad-luck gift to man. Violet, however, means “modesty,” hence the term “shrinking violet.” Color also influences the message. Blue means “I’ll always be true, faithful and watchful,” whereas white means “let’s take a chance.”
The Pansy Flower’s Message Is: Be of good cheer, a clear mind and calm spirit.
What Does the Pansy Flower Mean?
- loving thoughts
- love in idleness
- to think
- free thinkers
- to consider
- the birth flower of February
Use as Emblems:
Several states, cities, and organizations have chosen the violet or pansy to represent them. The common blue violet is the state flower of Rhode Island, Illinois, and New Jersey, while Wisconsin chose the wood violet. Osaka, Japan has the pansy as its city flower. The Kappa Alpha Theta sorority’s flowers are black and gold pansies. The pansy is also Tri Delta’s flower. It is a symbol of alumnae membership and the third step in the lifetime development of Delta Delta Delta’s members. It is also is the symbol of freethought, its usage inaugurated in the literature of the American Secular Union in the late 1800s.
The reasoning behind the pansy being the symbol of freethought lies in both the flower’s name and appearance. The pansy derives its name from the French word pensée, which means “thought”; it was so named because the flower resembles a human face, and in mid-to-late summer it nods forward as if deep in thought. The French believed that pansies could make your lover think of you.
Folklore and Mythology:
The three colors of the original pansy, purple, white and yellow, were thought to symbolize memories, loving thoughts, and souvenirs — all things that ease the hearts of separated lovers. The three petals were thought to be representative of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and thus the flower was sometimes called herb trinity.
In German and Scottish folktales, pansies were called stepmother: the large lower petal is the mother, the two large petals to either side of her are the well-dressed daughters, and the two small upper petals are poor stepdaughters.
In another German story, the pansy at one time had a wonderfully strong, sweet scent. People would travel from miles around to smell this scent. In doing so, however, they would trample down the grasses surrounding the pansy. Because this ruined the feed for cattle, the pansy prayed to God for help. God gave the plant great beauty but took away the scent.
According to the doctrine of signatures, pansy leaves, which are heart-shaped, were used to cure a broken heart.
Pansies were used to foretell the future for King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Plucking a pansy petal, the knights would look for secret signs. If the petal had four lines, this meant hope. If the lines were thick and leaned toward the left, this meant a life of trouble. Lines leaning toward the right signified prosperity until the end. Seven lines meant constancy in love (and if the center streak were the longest, Sunday would be the wedding day). Eight streaks meant fickleness, nine meant a changing of heart, and eleven signified disappointment in love and an early grave.
In Victorian England, the pansy flower was used for secret courting. Any display of love or passion was severely frowned upon and in order to communicate to potential romantic partners, the pansy was employed. It was placed in what was called a tussie mussie which was a bunch of herbs wrapped in a doily with some flowers in the middle. The pansy flower was used to convey not easily expressed in Victorian England such as I’m feeling amorous towards you, I am thinking of you or I have thoughts of you or I’m missing you, but always it was about one person thinking of another.
Pansy has dozens of common names, such as Johnny-jump-up, and the faces created by the patterns on the petals give rise to names like monkey faces, peeping Tom, and three faces in a hood. Its supposed magical powers in the ways of love resulted in names such as cull-me-to-you, tickle-my-fancy, love-in-idleness, kiss-her-in-the-pantry, and heart ease.
Nicholas Culpeper, a seventeenth-century English writer, said that a syrup made from the flowers was used as a cure for venereal disease. The Ancient Greeks considered the Violet a symbol of fertility and love and used it in love potions. Pliny recommended that a garland of violets be worn above the head to ward off headaches and dizzy spells. The Celts made a tea from the dried leaves and used it as a love potion.
In Literature and the Arts:
Pansies and violets play a central role in many well-known plays, especially those of William Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the juice of a pansy blossom (“before, milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, and maidens call it love-in-idleness”) is a love potion: “the juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid, will make a man or woman madly dote (fall in love) upon the next live creature that it sees.” (Act II, Scene I). In Hamlet, Laertes wishes that violets may spring from the grave of Ophelia: “Lay her in the earth,/ And from her fair and unpolluted flesh/ May violet spring” (v.I). Even Ophelia refers to them, “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts”, in Hamlet (Act IV, Scene V).
Legend says that at one time all pansies were white, and it was not until they were pierced by cupid’s arrow that they gained the purple and yellow colors. With the colors, however, came the magic power to be used in love potions.
Throughout the ages, the violet has been the emblem of constancy. A Proverb states, “Violet is for faithfulness,/ Which in me shall abide, / Hoping likewise that from your heart/ You will not let it hide.”
In 1926, Georgia O’Keeffe created a famous painting of a black pansy called simply, Pansy. She followed with White Pansy in 1927. D. H. Lawrence’s Pansies: Poems by D. H. Lawrence was published in 1929.
Pansy was the name of a beloved Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Custom guitar with an Alpine White finish, played by guitarist Frank Iero (whose nickname, coincidentally, is also Pansy) of the band My Chemical Romance. Pansy was unfortunately broken during a show.
Movie fans may remember Disney’s classic animated adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, which features a chorus of singing pansies.
Clearly, Pansies and Violas have played a major role in human activity for centuries. But, for most of us, what we love about these beautiful flowers is their vibrant colors, which include yellow, orange, red, white and even near-black (a very dark purple). They grow well in sun and partial sun and look fabulous in any garden.
Varied in colour and diminutive in appearance, pansies are a versatile cottage-garden favourite, perfect for adding delicate decorative touches.
1. Pansies are derived from several species of the viola family hybridized from the much smaller-flowered wild forms of this plant, particularly native Viola tricolor, also called heartsease or love-in-idleness.
2. Modern hybrids are varieties of Viola x wittrockiana and they bloom in an array of colours, from yellow, purple, orange, white and blue to almost black. The size of their flowers also varies, ranging from large blotched cheerful ‘faces’ to the smaller, more elegant forms and delicately marked varieties such as the Princess Series.
3. Best treated as biennials or short-lived perennials, pansies look delicate but are in fact resilient and long-lasting, and can withstand frost and harsh weather.
4. They are happy grown in containers or borders in sun or part- shade and in fertile, moist but well-drained soil or multi-purpose compost. Sow from seed in late winter or buy as potted plants from garden centres for winter and summer flowering.
5. To get the best from pansies, keep them moist and cool, use an organic slow-release balanced fertiliser to maintain their condition and maximize flowering, and dead-head regularly. Generally, they are trouble-free, only succumbing to aphids or powdery mildew once they eventually become exhausted.
6. With so many varieties to choose from in single and double forms, they can be mixed together easily to produce harmonious arrangements or a burst of riotous colour almost all year round.
7. Pansies are edible and can be used to add vibrant decoration to salads or iced cakes. Smaller, single flowers are best for this.
8. Their small form makes them ideal for pots or window boxes, either massed on their own or as companions to bulbs and primulas or summer bedding plants.
9. Re-plant shop-bought pansies in potting compost when you get them home to allow them to develop a larger root system and flower for longer.
- Pansies have short stems, so shot glasses or votives are ideal as vases. Alternatively, float the heads in a shallow bowl, where they will last for several days.
The pansy plant itself is compact, not more than 9 inches in both height and spread, and bears many stems. The medium green, coarsely notched leaves are oval or heart-shaped. Pansies are grown from seeds. They like full to partial sun. Pansies can be directly seeded into your flower garden or seeded indoors for transplanting later.
- Sow seeds early in the season and cover lightly with 1/8 inches of soil.
- Water thoroughly once. They germinate slowly.
- Transplant Pansy into your garden after the last frost date for your area. Space them 6 inches apart.
- Pansies will tolerate a little crowding.
- If you are creating a flower bed, you may want to create a pattern or color scheme prior to planting. Or, use mixed varieties.
Pansy Plant Care
- Pansies seldom have problems with insects and disease. If insect or disease problems occur, treat early with organic or chemical insect repellents and fungicide.
- If pansies fail to thrive it is often because neither nature nor the gardener provided enough water.
- Mulching around the pansies with 2 inches of organic material will help conserve moisture, and reduce weed growth.
- Water the soil (not the plant leaves) deeply.
Light: Part Sun, Sun
Type: Annual, Perennial
Height: Under 6 inches to 12 inches
Width: 4 to 12 inches wide
Flower Color: Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White
Foliage Color: Blue/Green
Seasonal Features: Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom
Special Features: Fragrance, Good for Containers
Great Garden Combos: Pansies pair well with a host of early-blooming bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, and snowdrops. They come in sizes ranging from petite Johnny-jump-ups to bold ‘Majestic Giant’ cultivars. For the best show, plant masses of nine to 12 plants for a carpet of color. In pots, they work alone or with favorites like flowering kale, dianthus, and sweet alyssum.
Quotes about Pansies
I pray, what flowers are these? The pansy this, O, that’s for lover’s thoughts. — George Chapman
The beauteous pansies rise In purple, gold, and blue, With tints of rainbow hue, Mocking the sunset skies. — Thomas John Ouseley
And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. — William Shakespeare
Heart’s ease of pansy, pleasure or thought, Which would the picture give us of these? Surely the heart that conceived it sought Heart’s ease. — Algernon Charles Swinburne
Pansies in soft April rains Fill their stalks with honeyed sap Drawn from Earth’s prolific lap. — Bayard Taylor
Darker than darkest pansies. — Lord Alfred Tennyson
“Pansies for ladies all-(I wish That none who wear such brooches miss A jewel in the mirror).” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“I pray, what flowers are these? The pansy this, O, that’s for lover’s thoughts.” — George Chapman
“Pansies in soft April rains Fill their stalks with honeyed sap Drawn from Earth’s prolific lap.” — Bayard Taylor