Pansies are worth it!

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

By Stephanie Hudak, Columnist

A couple weeks ago I had some of my northern relatives come to visit me and they were shocked when I told them I would just be finishing planting the city containers. What, they asked, could I possibly be planting in “the winter”? Well, you can tell they aren’t gardeners because even in the cold climate of Ohio, pansies will survive. The only problem is, you have is to dig through several feet of snow to find them. So why would you even spend the time and money, let alone consider going outside when it is that cold, to have some “pretties”? Cause pansies are worth it. Here in the milder temperatures of Madison, Georgia, we can enjoy the brilliant colors and delicate fragrance of pansies and violas without all those problems. Yes, my friends….pansies have a beautiful fragrance when grouped together! Next time you are at the nursery, slow down and sniff the air….that is pansies you smell!!

I am happy to say that the city containers — all 52 of them – are planted and growing happily. As I was installing them, folks would come by and ask what I was planting. Kale, parsley, pansies and violas I told them. What the heck is the difference between pansies and violas they asked…they look the same. Well, not really…take a closer look.

Botanically speaking there is no difference. They are both members of the viola species. Although they are from the same family there are differences.

Pansies have a more compact growth than violas. Pansy flower heads are usually larger – about three to four times as big as violas. The other main difference between these two annuals is that violas produce a greater number of flowers – about three to four times more than pansies…isn’t that reason enough to pick them over pansies?

The history of the pansy is linked forever to the viola. Trust the Greeks…they used the viola for herbal medicine and it later inspired William Shakespeare to write about it. And you can even eat these flowers. Not sure about the nutritional value of violas, but they can certainly brighten up a winter center piece. Just for general purposes, besides the fact that violas are smaller than pansies, here is how you can differentiate between them.

Pansy flowers are larger, about two to three inches in diameter. The flower petals differ as well. Pansies have four petals that point upward and one that points downward; violas have three petals that point upward and two that point downward. But yeah…both are cold hardy.

Neither like the heat and humidity we have here in the south so enjoy them in the cooler months and when the warm days of May come on us, start thinking about those summer annual like vinca and petunias. Violas and pansies require similar growing conditions Violas can withstand partial to full shade but pansies need more sun.

Both pansies and violas can withstand cold winter temperatures. I have found that violas do much better during a shocking cold snap. Side by side, after a bitter cold morning, the pansy flower looks like a bit of wasted tissue paper while the viola is still struttin’ its stuff. So with that said, you will see lots of violas in the city containers this year.

In particular, I like the Sorbet and Penny series. And the yellows really stand out. Speaking of that – remember what I have told you in the past – dark colors recede. While they may be pretty in the pot at the nursery, those purple and blue flowers will look like dark holes when you plant them. What else is out there in the containers?

Ah, kale, kale, kale — parsley, parsley, parsley. No mustard this year but that is because my supplier didn’t have any available when I ordered it Otherwise I like its big, bold shape. Mustard doesn’t like cold snaps but it will bounce back so I will use it because its large bold leaf makes such a wonderful statement in an arrangement. Put some parsley around the base to cover up those kale bad hair days and your arrangement will be fine. It is a little late in the season to be buying anything except Christmas trees but for next year consider the vibrant viola to make your containers or garden beds explode in color.

Watch the city containers to see which ones you like the best. And go to my blog to learn the names of which violas/pansies I used and thrived. Check it out — Or better yet, walk around town and see the containers in person.

By the way…thanks to all who understand that the containers are ornamentals not edibles. So what should you put on your shopping list next year? Sorry to say that the box stores won’t be able to help you but if you go to your independent nursery and ask for either the Sorbet or Penny viola series…either will make will make you proud.

Now that my containers are planted I can actually look at Christmas stuff…..and I found a beautiful natural wreath at Lowes I was proud to put on my door…hurry over…they will be gone before the print is dry on this story. Oh yeah….give a hug! Christmas gift idea: a bag of leaves or manure. What you say…has she lost her mind. I would cherish either for my compost pile….I don’t even need a ribbon on it. Send it on. Happy Thanksgiving!

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