Last year I started seeing pansies being used more frequently in bouquets by designers who are either growing their own flowers or have access to a really high end flower market. I have always loved these sweet, cheerful little flowers, but never really considered them as a potential bouquet ingredient until recently.
Last winter, I collected all of the varieties that seemed most suited for cut flower production and put on a big ol’ trial. In total, we grew over 40 different varieties of pansies and violas. Pansies have a more stocky growth habit and produce larger faced flowers, while violas have a more airy and wild growth habit and much smaller flower heads. Both are pure magic!
The goal of this trial was to find both pansies and violas that had beautiful coloring with long enough stems for cutting and vigorous plant growth.
In addition to testing different varieties, we also tried out two growing methods to see which produced longer stems. Seeds were started in early February in 72 cell trays in our heated seedling greenhouse. Both pansies and violas are easy to start from seed and are great for beginning gardeners.
We planted the first batch of seedlings in mid March in one of our unheated hoophouses. Because all of our growing beds were spoken for, we had to get creative and ended up planting the pansies and violas in bulb crates filled with potting soil instead of in the ground.
A bulb crate is a black plastic box with slits in the side that bulbs from the Netherlands are typically shipped in. They measure 15 inches wide and 24 inches long and about 8-12 inches deep. We planted 24 plants into each crate, with plants spaced 3-4 inches apart. The reason for the close plant spacing is because we had limited room and we wanted to see if closer plant spacing would encourage the plants to grow more upright, resulting in longer stems.
The second method was planting the seedlings into landscape fabric with 9 inch spacing out in our field, growing them like we grow all of our other cut flowers. Seedlings went into the field mid April, right before our last frost.
Pansies and violas are cold tolerant and can handle cooler weather and I actually think we could have planted them a month sooner than we did, around the same time as the ones in the hoophouse.
Both growing methods worked well and both plantings produced long enough stems for cutting. The field plants produced bushier growth and flowered a little later, probably because they went into the ground later, even though they were started from seed at the same time.
The plants grown undercover were much taller and I think the closer spacing and protection from wind allowed them to produce more delicate trailing stems than their counterparts grown in the field. We find the same is true for almost any cut flower that’s grown undercover. Stems are typically 30-50% longer because the plants aren’t bracing themselves against wind and poor weather and can stretch more easily towards the light.
It seems like the key with pansies and violas is choosing the right the varieties and then being patient because it takes time for their stems to stretch. We had blooms from early May through July and I was surprised by how heat tolerant they actually were.
All of the varieties that were included in the trial produced sufficient stem length for cutting. But only a handful of them had the colors and patterning that made them ideal candidates for arranging.
But the end of the growing season, we were harvesting stems that on average were 8-12 inches long, with some even stretching to 15 inches. Pansy stems are quite fragile so must be harvested with care.
They last an unbelievably long time in the vase. As the lower flowers on the stem begin to fade, new ones appear. We had cut pansies look beautiful well over a week in just plain water and 10+ days when we used flower food.
Going forward, I think planting into soil produces the healthiest plants, but if you have a protected spot in the garden, or room under cover to grow them, you will ultimately get longer stems.
While we grew over 40 varieties in the trial and all were beautiful, only 14 made the final cut. I love every variety featured in our shop and can’t wait to see their cheerful, adorable faces again this coming spring.
If you only have room for one variety, I recommend going with a mix.
The Rococo Frill Mix (pictured left) is a rich mix of yellow, velvet-purple, lavender and maroon petals with eye-catching veining. Petals are ruffled and edged with a lighter pigmentation, making them look like lace. These medium sized flowers carry a light fragrance.
The Aalsmeer King Size Mix (pictured right) includes gold, cranberry, lavender and bicolor flowers with distinct faces that look like butterflies. They have a ton of personality.
If you are looking for flowers in the peach tones, Pansy Nature Antique Shades (pictured left) has rich cranberry-rose blooms that fade to smokey peach and at last to light apricot.
Viola Gem Apricot Antique (pictured right) has antiqued plum colored blooms dusted with gold, giving them a peach quality. As flowers age, they lighten to a golden-apricot hue. They are also highly fragrant!
If you’re looking for flowers for wedding work, Pansy Panola Pink Shades (pictured left) is a feminine mix of blushy purple to purple-mauve. Each flower has a dark face and a glowing yellow throat which remind me of orchids.
It looks stunning when mixed with Viola Gem Pink Antique (pictured right) because their petals are similarly colored but the flower heads are much smaller. The coolest thing about this variety is that the oldest flowers on a stem are tinted turquoise.
For unusual novelty varieties, Pansy Frizzle Sizzle Yellow Blue Swirl (pictured left) carries a beautiful mix of frilly edged, fragrant flowers. Blooms darken as they age and are a gorgeous mix of smokey lavender-blue and gold with chocolate faces.
Pansy Envy (pictured right) produces flowers that range from chocolate to metallic lavender to yellow with a green cast. Strongly scented blooms have a sepia toned wash and look stunning planted en masse.
If you’re looking for a fun new addition to your garden, I would highly recommend that you give pansies and violas a try. In addition to being easy to grow, cold tolerant and suitable for small spaces and containers, they also make wonderful, unexpected cut flowers.
To see all of the varieties that made the cut and read more about them, visit the Floret Shop.
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