Pansies are short-lived perennials that are grown as annuals. They were developed in the late 19th century when the small-flowered heartsease (Viola tricolor) was crossed with other species. It’s hard to imagine that these appealing little flowers with their happy ‘faces’ are the ancestors of modern plants. Today’s pansies have larger flowers, and they come in an amazing range of vibrant colours and bicolours, with petals that are often striped or blotched. The first blotch kinds appeared in 1830, and have marks on the lower petals to guide pollinating insects.
Common name: Pansy
Botanic name: Viola x wittrockiana
The common name pansy is from the French pensee, meaning ‘thought’. The species name, wittrockiana, commemorates Swedish botanist Professor Veit Brecher Wittrock (1839 – 1914), who wrote a history of the cultivated pansy.
Description: A group of hybrid perennials used as annuals. Plants grow slowly to about 20cm (8″) high. The flowers may reach up to 10cm (4″) across. They are available in plain colours including white, yellow, mauve, blue, purple and almost black, as well as varieties with contrasting edging colours, stripes and conspicuous blotches.
tubs and containers
quick infusion of colour in drab gardens
temporary fill-in while permanent plants are becoming established
planting amongst spring flowering bulbs
Pansies can be grown in the garden or in pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.
They like a sunny spot through the cooler months but in warm areas (Sydney to Perth and north) light shade in spring and early summer will mean they keep flowering longer.
Prepare the soil in garden beds well before planting by digging in compost and well-rotted manure. The roots should not come into contact with concentrated fertiliser.
Liquid feed regularly and pick the flowers, or deadhead them, regularly to keep plants blooming.
Getting started: Pansies are sold in punnets (approx. $4.79 for about 10 seedlings) or as potted bloomers (approx. $3.99 for 100mm or 4″ pots). They are readily available at nurseries and garden centres. Plant seedlings in autumn for winter and spring flowers. In cooler climates delay planting until late winter, for a summer flower display.