Want a pop of instant colour over winter? Why not give the much-loved, winter-flowering pansy a try? Pansies’ pretty little faces are sure to brighten up any spot and lift you (and your garden) out of that winter gloom.
A close relative of violas and violets, the pansy has been the darling of Europe for hundreds of years. Shakespeare was a big fan of these delicate blooms, writing them into Hamlet as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream - in which (referred to as Cupid’s flower) they form the basis of the love potion brewed by Oberon. Even Charles Darwin was enchanted, closely studying their cross breeding for several decades while researching The Origin of the Species.
How to use pansies in your space
With their delicate petals arranged in the shape of a butterfly, pansies are just about the sweetest little flower you can grow. They come in a whole spectrum of vibrant colours and are awash with patterns and stripes, which give them faces and personality. Pansies sometimes even give off a waft of perfume.
If you have a cottage garden, pansies in riotous colours are a natural choice for borders. Mix and match the colours you love at the edge of your garden bed, fill a pot for spilling colour or plant them sporadically among your winter vegies for contrast among all the green.
If your garden is formal or you like strong, architectural lines, pansies can still play a part. Instead of planting mixes of colours, choose a single strong colour that will contrast with your existing plants. Strappy or tall potted plants can share their pot with a single colour of pansies for a colourful but neat lift. Similarly, planting pansies in a structured space like rectangular pots or garden beds with straight lines will take the humble pansy from traditional to modern.
Caring for pansies
Pansies are adaptable little things. They’re happy in full sun, part shade, in a pot or even in a hanging basket. Prepare their new home by adding aged compost or animal manure with a mixed fertiliser (but keep the tender roots away from concentrated fertiliser). Mix these well into the top 10 to 15cm of soil. Make sure the soil is well-drained, friable and fertile. Pick spent blooms to encourage new buds and lengthen flowering time. Feed every three to four weeks with dry fertiliser and keep an eye out for aphids, slugs and snails, which may munch on new growth. Control aphids with a spray of pyrethrum or treat with eco-oil and use pellets (according to packet instructions) to keep slugs and snails at bay.