viola-terra-cotta-and-others.jpgIN MY NORTHERN GARDEN it is pansy-planting time, meaning the nurseries are filled with flats of pansies and violas, and I, hungry for some color, want them all. Sound familiar? But I have chosen three: two stalwarts I use year after year and one newcomer called ‘Terra Cotta,’ a member of the Angel Series. Angels or otherwise, I have strict rules for using violas and pansies—do you want to hear?

Rule No. 1: I like pansies and violas best when they are used in low bowls like the ones pictured here, and I have made a practice of buying terra cotta bowls large and small over the years to accommodate this propensity.

Rule No. 2: I like one variety of pansy or viola per bowl, thank you.

Rule No. 3: I will happily make an occasional exception to Rule No. 2 if we are talking about combining two solid-color pansies or two solid-color violas that look good together. (I am in charge of all the rules, including what I deem looks good together; see Rule No. 4.)

Rule No. 4: The Doggie’s Dinner School of combining plants does not fly here. I like wild color combinations, yes, but not a couple of these and a few of those and oh, yes, I had four of this left over from somewhere, too, so I think I’ll put them all in one pot. Pansies (and even more so the violas) are small flowers; create a statement by keeping it simple.

Space your plants perhaps 4 inches apart, so they fill in fast (they don’t last once summer arrives, so you want two months of quick, dense color). And don’t plant so high so high in the bowls that watering will be a nightmare; leave headroom. The flowers will stretch above the rim once they get up and growing. By the way, my repeat choices are the violas ‘Blue Bronze’ (3-4 inches high, from the Velour Series) and ‘Black Delight’ (from the Sorbet Series, and a bit taller at about 6 inches. ‘Terra Cotta,’ my current obsession (thank you Andrew and Bob at Loomis Creek Nursery) gets to 4-6 inches high.

  1. andrewoowoo says:

    Wise advice, as always. I love ‘common’ plants because of their familiarity and, yes, their colour. But I really do recoil when I see clashing combos. Worst of all: bright red with bright yellow. A book I’m sure you have, but others may not, is The Jewel Box Garden by Thomas Hobbs. Highly recommended. Lots of lessons in there about pairings and container plantings, as well as how/where to situate potted material in the garden to make an impacting (but not headache-inducing) impression.

    -Andrew…who is a pansy in his own special way.

  2. paige orloff says:

    I have such a soft spot for pansies. Along with bachelors’ buttons, they are my absolute favorite flowers from childhood. Thanks for the nursery tip–I know where I’ll be going on Saturday!

  3. GardenGuy says:

    Pansies have long been the first ‘potted’ burst of color that welcome spring. I’m with you M – a nice pot of a single color has such impact. Several years ago an ‘icicle pansy’ was introduced (they die back in the warmer months and come back once the weather cools and they can handle very cold temperatures) but I never had great luck with them.

    As a side note… you’ve been missed! I’ve spoken with you and my ‘homeboy’ Andrew on ‘Homegrown’ several times and it always felt like I was talking with old friends. I’m glad you’re doing well and I love your blog. Gardening is a true passion of mine. Our weather is finally breaking from the long winter. It’s time to get my hands dirty!

  4. margaret says:

    So nice to hear from a Sirius 112 fan and fellow dirty-hands type. I miss my time with Andrew (Beckman, garden editor of Martha Stewart Living)–though he’s a neighbor so I still get to see him (and without our radio headsets on!). I’m going to investigate the Icicle pansies you mention…not on my radar.

  5. margaret says:

    Great point: Yes, I deadhead regularly (tedious but beneficial) and if they stretch up a lot I shear them and let them regrow, either in the pots if the weather’s not baking yet or in the ground. I put some of the true violas (not the big pansies) in the vegetable garden when I redo my pots for summer and cast them out, just tucking them in where there’s some room along an edge, and you are correct: they will usually rebloom (and even overwinter in most cases). I think they are great cut flowers put in little recycled medicine bottles and other tiny containers, like in the photo, so I make good use of them that way, placing miniature “arrangements” on the windowsills inside or on the table. And the scent!

  6. GardenGuy says:

    Good morning Margaret,
    Nice to hear from you too! Here is the link to the icicle pansy website should you wish to investigate at some point.

    I believe I was incorrect about their ‘life cycle’ as you will see from the website.

    Do you deadhead your pansies or cut back some of the leggy growth they can develop? I did cut mine back last year when they struggled through the hottest part of a typical Michigan summer.I put them in a cooler spot (a great deal of shade), kept them well watered and they actually came back to bloom in the cooler fall months until the first hard frost. It was a bit of the unexpected in the Fall.

    Things are beginning to emerge in the gardens and I’m anxious to nurture my plants to full glory! TGIF! –Kenn

  7. gardenboy says:

    Everything in its time. When the pansies and violas begin to peter out in June on to the compost heap they go. By then the summer annuals are beginning to do their thing and I am ready for them. Deadhead all of those bowls?! No way.

  8. Terri Clark says:

    In Vancouver, Canada, where I garden, the pansies are out in large low pots at each entrance to our house. I agree that to mix and match is risky but one year I went “viola mad” (I should cancel the T & M Catelogue as it brings out the addict in me) and started 10 varieties from seed. They are so easy to grow if you have a greenhouse, but must start early. Anyway, I had far too many for pots (later in the season)and ended up planting the dozens of extras in a dappled narrow bed that bordered an entry sidewalk. It was over-the-top splendid in its hussy-like combination of colours and even caused comment from my garden-comotose friends who usually notice nada when they enter my garden at its most splendid. A good experiment.
    I love this blog, Margaret, and thank you for your many dedicated years at MSL where you raised the horticultural bar for a new generation of gardeners.

  9. margaret says:

    Welcome to A Way to Garden, and I second all your motions: occasional viola madness, hussy moments, and waking up of garden-comatose friends. And thank you for your kind words. I am so excited to be back in touch with all of you fellow gardeners, as we start another season together.

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Jaynee Hoag, to A Way to Garden. I don’t know the poem…and now I will have to go find it! Hope you will come back and visit soon again.

  11. jaynee hoag says:

    Being you are a true pansie lover but knowing your age, I am trying to remember a poem that we used to say as we picked off each petal one by one? can only remember the last part ended with the Queen sitting on her thorne, thank very much either way. jaynee hoag

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Joyce. I will try to get you the wholesaler name so you can find a vendor near you. It will take me a day or so as I have to ask around.

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