It’s now about time to enhance our fall, winter and spring gardens with some lovable, colourful, perfumed winter pansies, but there is more to it than just popping them in the ground. Done well, they can create magic in our fall gardens and again in late winter and spring when we really need that colour lift.
The natural colours in winter landscapes are basically bleak: cold grey skies; faded grasses and bare trees; and slate coloured streets and driveways. What we need during these dull months is brightness. Warm colours, such as yellows, reds and oranges, along with whites for accent, will add life to our gardens. Pastel colours, like most blues, pinks and mauves, can show up well if they’re accented properly.
Multicoloured pansies are attractive, but they won’t have the same impact in a winter landscape as single coloured pansies that not only stand out by themselves, but are also further enhanced by being paired with pansies of complementary colours, such as the new planned colour combinations like ‘Citrus Mix’, ‘Ocean Breeze’ and ‘Raspberry Sundae’. Yellows and blues are often used together very effectively, but what about soft yellows with attractive maroon-reds or wine-purples? Believe me, they’re combinations that really work! Reds and whites together aren’t bad either. Whites with deep purples look very classy, and bright oranges with pastel blues are also great. The point is: put some striking colour combinations together for a far more dramatic result in your garden.
Now, where to put them? It’s important to understand that unless you mass plant pansies they are never going to provide the high impact of marigolds or petunias. They will be far more effective when strategically located in high visibility locations, such as along your driveway and sidewalks and around focal trees in your landscape. Stand back and take a good look at your landscape to see just where little bits of colour would spark things up for the coming fall and winter.
If you have some large flower beds you’d like to liven up, use pansies along with other winter plants. Flowering kale and cabbage are sensational winter focal points, especially the new ‘Winter Bor’, ‘Red Bor’ and the silver ‘laciniata’. Plant kale in attractive patterns, using blocks of three to five plants. Between your groupings of kale, add blocks of solid, brightly coloured pansies. Try orange pansies around purple kale or deep blue pansies around white kale. These combinations are really eye-catching!
The ‘Proven Winner’ folks have come up with a wonderful series of hardy evergreen plants that complement pansies very nicely. Dwarf evergreen grasses make fabulous focal points in planting beds or containers. For example, Carex ‘Evergold’ has white and yellow variegated foliage that is quite striking all winter long. Acorus ‘Ogon’ is a more upright gold and green that acts like a spark plug for winter combinations. These grasses are also perfect companions to small bulbs like blue crocus and dwarf Iris reticulata. The new evergreen ajugas, like the deep purple ‘Mahogany’ the pink/cream ‘Burgundy Glow’ and ‘Black Scallop’, make fine ground covers or edging plants and are great complements to pansies. I really love hardy evergreen euphorbias, like ‘Blackbird’, ‘Rosy Glow’ and ‘Ascot Rainbow’, that turn rich deep colours in winter and produce fabulous chartreuse flowers in spring. These euphorbias tolerated -10°C last winter with no problems. Purple, lime and tan coloured heucheras, like ‘Obsidian’, ‘Caramel’ and ‘Marmalade’, are not only evergreen but also provide fabulous accents for almost any colour of pansy. The new lime colours of heucherella ‘Sunspot’ and heuchera ‘Lime Ricky’ are powerful accents. You can also create some fabulous combinations with the new colours of heucheras ‘Peach Melba’ and ‘Peach Flambé’. They are especially effective with orange and gold pansies.
We’ve only just begun to discover the pleasure and value that pansies can add to a garden during the bleakest time of the year. The small flowered violas and the stunning ‘Matrix’ series of pansies are some of the hardiest varieties. Getting an early start will make a huge difference to the size and quality of your pansy display. If the hot weather makes them stretch just a bit, a little pinching back will not only keep them compact but will also really bulk them up.