Pansies: The Flower with a Face
“Pansies in soft April rains, Fill their stalks with honeyed sap Drawn from Earth’s prolific lap.”
Pansies are a popular spring flower because they’re not only early bloomers but they come in a collage of colors that actually prefer the cooler months of the gardening season. Even more interesting is that they have a rich history and symbolism behind them making them a welcome and intriguing guest to your garden. Pansies are happy looking plants with their bright petals contrasting in a “face-like” appearance. Whatever the pattern looks like, the pansy is a type of viola that gardeners have grown for hundreds of years. Shakespeare mentioned them in Hamlet.
Pansies should be planted in well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. They’re a cool-season flower, which means they’ll bloom best in the spring and the fall. You can also plant them in partial shade to keep them cooler and blooming longer. Pansies are cold tolerant, though not winter hardy in harsh climates. In areas that experience frost, you can set them out a month before the last frost date—and in areas with mild winters that rarely experience a freeze, pansies can be left out all winter to re-bloom in the spring.
Oh yeah, did we tell you that you can eat them? Pansies are one of the most popular edible flowers, and they have a fresh, somewhat spicy flavor. You’ll find them in salads and other dishes not only as decoration but to add flavor. Flowers have been part of our diet for thousands of years. Chinese cooks experimented with edible flowers as far back at 3,000 B.C., and ancient Romans used violets, roses, and lavender in their food. Be sure to eat only flowers that have been grown without chemical pesticides.
Turns out the word pansy comes from the French word pensée, meaning ‘thought,’ presumably because when the pansy nods forward in mid-to-late summer, it appears to be bowing in deep thought. The French believed pansies had the power to make someone think of you with love. Pansies are common field flowers in Europe, so they feature prominently in many legends—including Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play describes one legend surrounding pansies, which states that these flowers were originally pure white until they were struck by Cupid’s arrow. It’s the arrow wound that caused the dark purple color at the center of the flower.
When you dig into the etymology behind the pansy’s name—and various nicknames it’s had over the years—you’ll see even more symbolism. Between the various names that have surrounded this flower over the years, pansies came to represent concepts like dreaming, humility, love, and lovers. Another popular name for these delicate flowers was “heartsease,” which was one of the names Gerard used for them in Historie of Plantes. Pansies have also been called “love in idleness,” “three faces under a hood,” “jump up and kiss me,” and “herb trinity.”
Rich history and symbolism, and beautiful colors, pansies are a must-have in any garden. Pick your favorite or plant a mix—they’ll reward you with cheerful little flowers all season long. Shown above are pansies paired with white alyssum and planted in a whimsical basket container. Stop in today and choose the pansies that “tickle your fancy” and create your own stunning garden container, basket or planting with pansies.