Pansy Parade

Pansy 'Sangria Punch' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The thirst quenching Pansy ‘Sangria Punch’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Pansies and violas, both members of the large violet family (a genus with over 500 species), are the perfect Grand Marshals to lead the parade of spring into your garden. Thought to have originated from Europe, there is history indicating the Greeks cultivated viola for medicinal uses as far back as the 4th century B.C..  However, the plants familiar to us today were the result of efforts to cross various viola species much more recently, in the early 1800’s.  Even then, breeders in England were selecting plants for their unusually vivid colors and by the late 1800’s they were in great demand all across the Atlantic.

Viola 'Sorbet Purple Ice' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Luscious Viola ‘Sorbet Purple Ice’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The accolades for pansies and viola were much deserved then as now, and all but the warmest climates can successfully grow this cheery plant.  Durable and hardy, these mini-workhorses plow through early spring snows and icy temperatures, producing bright, enthusiastic blossoms once the sun thaws them out.  When our hardiest perennials and shrubs temporarily succumb to winter’s last attempts, the reliable pansy perseveres, providing a prismatic display that could lure Old Man Winter out of his doldrums.  And if pansies and violas can cheer up that grumpy old guy, just think what they’ll do for you!

Pansy 'Pink Berry' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The incredibly hued Pansy ‘Pink Berry’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

With happy faces glowing in hues of chromatic yellow, crimson red and violet purple, one might be more than satisfied, but many of violas petals are a medley of shades resembling an artist’s most intense undertaking to create a kaleidoscope of shades, all on one flower.  When you stare into the delicate profile of a viola or pansy and truly study each detail, each intricate brushstroke, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the incredible beauty and uniqueness of an individual flower.  While you’re close up and personal, take a long whiff and delight yourself with one of the sweetest scents early spring has to offer.

Pansy 'Delta Pure Red' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The seductive Pansy ‘Delta Pure Red’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Although pansies and viola are from the same family, there are some differences.  You’ll notice that pansies have a much larger, often multi-colored flower (sometimes up to 3 inches in diameter) with five petals comprising each blossom.  On the other hand, the viola’s flower is much smaller, with more subtle hue transitions.  The viola, also called Johnny Jump Up, is thought to be more winter hardy than the pansy, but either choice should bloom profusely during the cooler months of spring and again in fall, with a rest period during the hottest summer months.  Both pansies and violas thrive in moist, well drained soil, in full sun to part shade, and a light layer of mulch should provide enough protection to endure harsh temperatures.

Viola 'Sorbet Lemon Chiffon' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Scrumptious Viola ‘Sorbet Lemon Chiffon’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

But did you know that pansies and viola can also make a decorative and edible garnish? Possessing a mild, minty flavor, they can be used to embellish cocktails, desserts, salads, even soups.  And they are absolutely stunning when candied and used as ornamentation on a festive cake. In addition, both the leaves and flowers of pansies and viola are high in vitamins A and C, which makes them the perfect complement to an herb container.  Use care if you decide to partake of a few pansy blossoms, as most commercially grown plants are treated with chemicals. Alas, whether you grow them for their cheery personality or for a colorful snack (or both!), what could be more welcome to our plant starved senses than the vibrant and sweetly fragrant pansy?


  1. Just Beautiful! Never knew there were 2 different species, & So many varieties! And you can eat them- what a flower….

    • Yes, they’re a lovely addition to the early spring border, whether planted in a container or in the garden!

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