Also known as: Viola

Nearly everyone who has seen a pansy can't help loving it – the cheerful little faces and "cat's whiskers" on the petals give off a sense of whimsy and charm. Pansies are part of the violet family and were cultivated from the wildflower, "Heartsease". They have been bred over the years to include a large variety of cultivars and hybrids. The flowers are native to North America, Australasia, and the South American Andes.

The pansy's history begins with a small European member of the viola family, "Johnny-jump-up", whose name refers to the fact that it reseeds easily and grows in almost any place; even where you'd least expect it. Pansies were used by the Greeks as medicine and in food gardening, and even now, the edible pansy blossoms can show up on salads. The plants are mentioned throughout Shakespeare's work, being referred to as "the little western flower" in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Pansies have small, bicolored flowers that look like they have "faces". The blossoms can contribute color to your garden design, as they can come in blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink, white or can be multicolored. The plant has gently lobed light green leaves. Pansies can grow up to 10 inches tall and spread out to a foot. They should be planted in the early spring or early fall, because they prefer cool weather.

Growing Pansies

Pansies grow best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They like a fertile, moist soil with lots of organic matter. If you're germinating from the pansy seed, keep them in a cool, dark place until they start to grow. Pansies need deadheading to keep flowering well.

Recommended Varieties

Pansies have a number of hybrids, but some popular cultivars include "Johnny-jump-up", the variety that propagated the whole species; and "Pansy", the most common garden variety viola. All have several different varieties that can include bi- and tri-colored petals and different floral markings. One new cultivar is the "Watercolor" series, which has flowers in pastel shades. All of these varieties should be available of your local garden center.

Landscape Design Tips

Pansies look great in container gardens or as fillers between taller bulbs. An idea is to plant contrasting colors with tulips to create an eye-catching flowerbed. Be sure that you keep the soil moist and don't be alarmed if the pansies die back in the hotter season – if you're looking after them right, they'll come back when it gets cooler and flower a second time.

Gardening Zones

Pansies are hardy in zones 3 to 11.

Pests and Problems

When it comes to pest control, Pansies can suffer from slugs and snails as well as fungal problems if the soil isn't well-drained.