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Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

October 23, 2005

Pansies are synonymous with late fall and winter bloom in Southern California. While they tolerate plenty of cold weather in the north and east to bloom in the spring, here they love the warmth of late fall and will bloom from November through late spring, sometimes even into the first months of summer. Nothing quite rivals the eye catching beauty of the clear faces, blotched faces or whiskered faces of well grown pansies in the sometimes dreary days of winter.

Pansies are perennials, but we always treat them as annuals—they will almost never live over the hot dry days of our summer, but while they bloom in the winter and spring they are magnificent.

Today, with the striking new pansies that plant breeders are adding to the list of names from which to choose, you can have almost any panorama of colors, blooms and flower sizes you want. Many prefer the clear-faced pansies, some like the big blooms with blotched faces, some prefer those with whiskered faces, and you can find mixtures to suit any color plan and separate colors that produce masses of color in a flower bed.

Almost all pansies on the market today do well in our moderate winter climate. Some are better than others, but most bloom well for long periods of time and you need only pick the ones that strike your fancy.

Some names are better known than others, and for good reason. Majestic Giants, now an oldie but a goodie, makes about the largest flowers, many of them four to five inches across. Antique Shades, somewhat newer, was an instant attraction when it was introduced because of the almost clear faces in shades of apricot and blush lavender.

A new variety that’s going to be well known is the Atlas Series, with big flowers with pastel and bicolored faces and blooms about two to three inches across. An older All-America Selections Winner, Jolly Joker, with intense deep orange color in whiskered faces is still going strong and worth planting. There’s a selection of very dark, almost black-faced pansies that some gardeners like. The purplish-black medium flowers are shiny and look like black velvet. Black Moon, a hybrid, may the best of these.

Most seed catalogs list many varieties; Thompson and Morgan lists over 20, Park has nine or ten. Seed racks will usually have two or three, and by this month, good nurseries and garden centers will have started plants of several varieties.

You can still start pansies this month from seed. Start the seed in a sunny place, in good, moisture retaining soil, cover the seed lightly, and keep moist until seedlings are up and going well, then water only as needed. You can also start pansies under controlled conditions, a greenhouse, portable greenhouse or a large container covered with plastic, even up through November. Transplant into sunny spots in the garden, or into containers, when the plants are two inches or more tall, and be sure to take a good root ball with the plant.

You can set out started plants from the nursery all through the winter and up until April. Be sure that there is good drainage where the plants are, since crown rot is a problem when they stand in water. And it’s best not to plant pansies in the same spot each year. But do get your pansies in soon and be prepared for lots of color this winter.

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