Violas & Pansies

blue Viola flowers

A large genus of tufted annuals, biennials or short-lived, evergreen perennials; loved for their bright and charming little flowers. Pansies were developed from wild violas in the early 19th century and are closely related to them. The hybridisation process has carried on since, creating the extensive variety of sizes, shapes and colour combinations available today.

Pansies are similar to violas in flower style, shape and growth habit, but normally have much larger leaves and flowers, from 2 to 3in (5 to 8cm) in diameter. Another key difference is that whilst pansies only display a few flowers at a time, violas are much more floriferous and can either be multi or single-coloured.

Family: Violaceae
Botanical Name: Viola
Common Names: wild pansy, tufted pansy, bird's eye, black eye, cat's faces, panda faces.

Foliage: Deciduous or evergreen, simple or pinnately lobed leaves. The leaves are long-stalked and ovoid with rounded marginal serrations.

Flowers: Open, flat, 5-petalled flowers. The flowers have a pair of upper petals, a pair of side petals and one lower petal.

Flowering Period: From autumn to spring and into summer, depending on variety and when planted.

Soil: Moist but well-drained, fertile soil. Sand or loam. Any pH.

Conditions: Sun or light shade. Plant in an east, west or south facing aspect, in either an exposed or sheltered possition.

Habit: Low growing plants of a carpeting/clump forming habit.

Type: Most violas and pansies are hardy perennials, but they are generally grown as half-hardy annuals or as hardy biennials in the UK.

Origin: Asia and Europe.

Hardiness: Most varieties are hardy in the UK.

Planting and Growing Violas & Pansies

Plant in early autumn or early spring, depending when flowers are required. Violas and pansies are suitable for a wide variety of garden situations, such as front of the border, bedding, edging and containers.

Best grown in a cool position in partial shade, although they will take full sun if kept moist. Plant them in a moist, moderately fertile, sandy soil or loam. Avoid waterlogged soils and heavy clay. Particularly for alpine species, which require an open gritty soil.

Taking Care of Violas & Pansies

Violas area easy to grow and need very little care and attention. Water copiously in dry weather.

Deadhead regularly to extend the flowering season and prevent the plants from becoming too straggly.

In the winter check for downy mildew and remove any leaves that are affected.

Perennials can quickly become straggly, so are best lifted and divided every few years or so.

Hardier varieties can be over-wintered successfully in the open. The less hardy forms should be over-wintered in cold frames.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by aphids, slugs, snails, red spider mite, violet gall midge.

Prone to powdery mildews, pansy leaf spot, virus and rust.

Propagating Violas & Pansies

Pansies and violas are easily grown from seed. Sow under glass in late winter for spring bedding or direct in the garden in early summer for winter colour. Sowings can also be made in March for a summer display. Sow thinly in trays of seed compost. Cover and germinate at a temperature of about 15°C. Prick out into individual pots once the first true leaves appear. Gradually hardening off before planting outside.

Most species can also be propagated from basal shoot cuttings.

Another easy way to regenerate perennial stock, is to cut a few sturdy plants hard back in late summer and lightly top-dress with a mixture of 50/50 fine soil-based compost and horticultural sand. Keep moist and after a few weeks new shoots should sprout-up through the compost. These can be teased out with rootlets attached. Pot on and protect from frost in a cold frame or cool greenhouse, ready for planting out the following spring.

Pansies provide larger and brighter flowers when raised from seed, however violas tend to be more vigorous when propagated by cuttings.

Collecting Seed

Most forms are easily be grown from seed collected from mature plants. However, F1 and named varieties won't come true. As the seed pods ripen they dry and shrink, ejecting the seeds some distance around the garden. To successfully collect the seeds, harvest the seed pods just before they split open and store in a clean dry paper bag until needed.

Popular Varieties of Violas & Pansies Grown in the UK

By growing a selection of varieties, it is possible to have a show of these cheerful little blooms for most of the year. Pansies are available in shades of cream, yellow, orange, red, mauve, purple or white. Often scented. Viola flower colours are as wide-ranging but often in softer shades.

Violas

Although more compact with smaller flowers, Violas are generally more vigorous and floriferous than pansies. Several good varieties include:

Viola 'Alba' (horned violet) is excellent in the rock garden or border edge. It grows to 23cm/9in high by 30cm/12in wide and has purple or white flowers in early summer.
Viola 'Allspice Mixed'
Viola 'Bunny Ears'
Viola Colourburst
Viola cornuta (horned violet) early summer flowering and good as ground cover.
Viola 'Freckles'
Viola hybrida 'Rose Shades'
Viola labrodor 'Purpurea', mauve flowers. Height 5in (13cm).
Viola Ochre (Trailing)
Viola odorata - sweet violet or english violet. A rhizomatous perennial that forms a mat of heart-shaped leaves with fragrant violet or white flowers, in late winter and early spring.
Viola 'Sorbet Orange Jump Up'
Viola sororia 'Albiflora'
Viola sororia 'Freckles'
Viola tricolor (heartsease) is a spreading form, with small unscented flowers. Dark purple upper petals, pale purple or pale yellow middle petals and a dark yellow lower petal, with dark streaks. Flowers from spring to autumn. Height 4-6in (10-15cm).
Viola Valentino
Viola 'Waterfall' Mixed
Viola x hybrida 'Magnifico' F1 Hybrid
Viola x williamsiana 'Brush Strokes'
Viola x williamsiana 'Sweeties'

Pansies

Pansies are mostly classified under the name Viola x wittrockiana. These hybrids have showy flowers in a wide range of colours. Average height to 9in (23cm). Several good varieties include:

Pansy 'Avalanche Bronze Lavender' (Trailing)
Pansy 'Black Moon' F1 Hybrid
Pansy Butterfly
Pansy 'Can-Can Mixed' F1 Hybrid
Pansy Cascadia Blues Mix
Pansy Cascadia Trailing Mix
Pansy Cascadia Yellows Mix
Pansy 'Chalon Supreme Wildberry Mixed'
Pansy 'Clear Crystal Mixed'
Pansy Colourburst
Pansy 'Envy'
Pansy F1 'Mystique Moonlight'
Pansy Firecracker
Pansy 'Frizzle Sizzle Fire'
Pansy 'Frou Frou Mixed'
Pansy Golden Flambe
Pansy Grande Fragrance
Pansy 'Jolly Joker' F2 Hybrid
Pansy 'Karma Blue Butterfly' F1 Hybrid
Pansy 'Majestic Giants Mixed' F1 Hybrid
Pansy 'Mystique Blue Halo'
Pansy Oceana
Pansy 'Petite Mixed' F1 Hybrid
Pansy 'Plentifall Mixed'
Pansy 'Silver Wings'
Pansy 'Singing the Blues'
Pansy Strawberry Rose
Pansy Tango Magic
Pansy 'Tea Party'
Pansy 'Universal Mixed' F1 Hybrid
Pansy 'Water Colours Mixed' F1 Hybrid
Pansy 'Waterfall Mix'
Pansy Zest