Pansies, Violas And The “What Else Is There” Crowd

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Pansies, Violas And The "What Else Is There" Crowd

First, let it be said, nay, let it be trumpeted, that there are no finer winter landscape plants than pansies and violas. If the red of the snowplow is the brightest winter color in your climate and the red pansy is simply a catalog dream, I feel for you. However, if in the rest of the country, where pansies are as common as pollen, then listen up, because I have some special plants for you.

It is said that if a table filled with pots of equally beautiful pansies and violas were displayed side by side, pansies would out sell pansies by approximately 80:20. I really hope it isn’t that bad because if so, that means the consumer is as stupid as a rock. We like to believe differently. I may be the stupid one because I think the violas today have far surpassed the pansies for creative colors, and even performance. I am an outlier in horticultural surveys.

At the Gardens at UGA, we trialed dozens of pansies and violas this winter and they were all excellent–really, there was not a dog among them. Some were a little more excellent than others, some caught more eyes, while some were more boring than others, but my grandmother would have been happy with any one of them. My horticultural hero and trial garden manager, Meg Green, scored them all and her data in great graphic detail can be seen at www.uga.edu/ugatrial. Some of the most eye-catching cultivars can be seen in the web section of the garden appropriately titled “Plants that Knock Your Socks Off.” You’ll have a ball if you visit.

However for the short story, I asked 25 students to name their favorite three to five violas and pansies in the garden. “Asked” may be stretching the term a little, what I really said is “Look these over carefully, and let me know your top three to five pansies or you fail.” So what the survey lacks in numbers, it makes up in focus.

Survey says:

Top pansies:
1. ‘Matrix Morpheus,’ PanAmerican
2. ‘Matrix Blue Frost,’ PanAmerican
3. ‘Fama Violet and Yellow,’ Benary Seed
4. ‘Dynamite Strawberry,’ Sakata Seed
5. Three tied, Armitage favorites: ‘Matrix Morpheus,’ ‘Angel Deep Yellow,’ ‘Dynamite Strawberry’

Top violas:
1. ‘Skippy XL Red-Gold’ Kieft
2. ‘Venus Light Blue’ Sakata
3. ‘Angel Velvet,’ Floranova
4. ‘Venus Orange,’ Sakata
5. Three tied, Armitage favorites: ‘Angel Amber Kiss’ (Floranova), ‘Yes Coconut Frost’ (Floranova), ‘Venus

“What else is there?” is often asked by pansy-weary growers and landscapers. “Depends,” I say. “If you must have flowers all winter, the answer is nothing. If however, some good foliage and/or late winter flowers are useful, then there are quite a few.” A number of years ago, I wrote similar columns in Greenhouse Grower, but the players today are different from those back then.

Foliage: Just like a new supermodel, the latest on the runway is (who would have guessed) Ornamental Mustard. Yes, that’s what I said, and when you didn’t believe me about parsley making a great companion planting for pansies, look how much money you lost. So, if ornamental mustard is in, which one should I order for next year? Absolutely no doubt, the winner is ‘Brazen Brass’ from Sakata Seed. Other mustards are being selected, but don’t mess around, get this baby next year.

Flowers: The winners this year were the old fashioned English wallflower, erysimum ‘Citrona Orange’ and ‘Citrona Yellow’ from Pan American Seed are great improvement on an old-fashioned favorite. They flowered early and were spectacular in containers and in the ground (for us) by early March, and similarly old fashioned sweet William. ‘Sweet Coral Magic,’ also from Pan American Seed, outperformed all its counterparts in spades. Handsome peach colored flowers filled the plants, but most importantly, they bore strong and sturdy stems.

Remember, check out all the winter trials on www.uga.edu/ugatrial. Then go to “Annuals” for the in-depth pansy and viola data, and to “Around the Garden” for the knock-your-socks-off funfest.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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