In recent years I’ve seen 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 because of their small size.
Eager to figure out the secrets of growing them as a cut flower, I collected nearly 50 pansy and viola varieties that seemed most suited for production and grew them as part of a farm trial. 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 hoop houses. 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 (38 cm) wide and 24 inches (61 cm) long and about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 cm) deep. We planted 24 plants into each crate, with plants spaced 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm) apart. The reason for the close plant spacing is that we had limited room and 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 (23-cm) spacing out in our field, growing them as 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 hoop house.
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 under cover 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 under cover. Stems are typically 30 to 50 percent longer because the plants aren’t bracing themselves against wind and poor weather, and can stretch more easily toward the light.
It seems the key with pansies and violas is choosing the right 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 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.
By the end of the growing season, we were harvesting stems that on average were 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 cm) long, with some even stretching to 15 inches (38 cm). Pansy stems are quite fragile so must be harvested with care.
The flowers 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 for well over a week in just plain water and more than 10 days when we used flower food.
Going forward, I think planting into soil produces the healthiest plants. And if you have a protected spot in the garden or room under cover to grow them, you ultimately will get longer stems.
While we grew more than 40 varieties in the trial and all were beautiful, only 14 made the final cut. I love them all 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 smoky 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 also are 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 reminds me of orchids.
This variety looks stunning mixed with Viola ‘Gem Pink Antique’ (pictured right) because the 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 smoky 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.
Two varieties in particular have a wonderful antique look and painterly stripes.
The ruffled blooms of Pansy Chianti Mix (pictured left) have a lovely feminine quality. Colors range in varying shades of raspberry, peach, rose-blush, and pale lemon-yellow. Flowers have contrasting dark faces, and some petals are even striped. This versatile mix is perfect for flower arranging because the muted earthy tones mix well with so many colors.
Pansy ‘Brush Strokes’ (pictured right) is a fitting name for this striking mix of striped and multicolored flowers in shades of eggplant, wine, apricot, and sunny golden-yellow. As flowers age they take on a blue cast, giving them an old-fashioned, sepia-toned quality. One of our favorites to date.
All of these pansy varieties meet our standards for beautiful coloring, vigorous growth, and long stems. They’re great for petite posies or woven into larger scale arrangements, and they have become a new favorite.
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.
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Mallory Blackburn on
Pansies are my FAVORITE flower! I have been searching for 20 years to see them in a cut flower bouquet! This is so amazing and I love all testing and research you’ve done because, yes they are very persevering in a cooler or early-frost climate. I know you are testing and teaching how to do these as well as selling seeds and tips but would you ever consider getting into selling them as a floral cut bouquet? If so, I’d be very interested in helping you do so, such a beautiful untapped market! I’d love to mix them with another unseen gem in a cut bouquet that could change a lot in that market, the small tiny bells of the lily of the valley…..:)