The following post was submitted by Maggie Wiles of Greenstreet Gardens.
The common words "pansy" and "viola" are often confused.
Pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down. Violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down. Modern horticulturists have developed a wide range of pansy flower colors and bi-colors including yellow, gold, orange, purple, violet, red, white, and even near-black (very dark purple). Pansies typically display large showy face markings.
In the early years of the 19th century, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet (1785–1861), collected and cultivated every sort of Viola tricolor (commonly, heartsease) she could procure in her father's garden at Walton-upon-Thames, Surrey.
Under the supervision of her gardener, William Richardson, a large variety of plants was produced via cross-breeding. In 1812, she introduced her pansies to the horticultural world, and, in 1813, Mr. Lee, a well-known florist and nurseryman, further cultivated the flower. Other nurserymen followed Lee's example, and the pansy became a favorite among the public. By 1833, there were 400 named pansies available to gardeners who once considered its progenitor, heartsease, a weed.
Pansies are a great cool weather crop, growing well in sunny or partially sunny positions in well-draining soils. Pansies are perennial, but normally grown as biennials or annuals because of their leggy growth. Because of selective human breeding, most garden pansies bloom the first year, some in as little as nine weeks after sowing. Pansies, for best growth, are watered thoroughly about once a week, depending on climate and rainfall. The plant should never be over-watered. To maximize blooming, plant foods are used about every other week, depending on the type of food used. Regular deadheading can extend the blooming period.
When planted in the fall, pansies will bloom well into the winter months and revive again in spring for another show of color, fading once the weather gets hot. Incorporate tulips into your fall plantings and be rewarded by an incredible show in the spring.