Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Colour every day of the year

With a greenhouse or conservatory it is easy to enjoy fresh flowers every day of the year. However this can mean keeping a large number of very different plants as each will only bloom over a limited period.


Very few plants can be persuaded into flower every week of the year and even fewer in a wide range of colours. Indeed almost the only continuous bloomer for both warmer and colder months and in every colour of the rainbow, is the Pansy. Now the Pansies (and the inter-mixed inter-bred and conflated Violas) comprise a huge number of highly selected hybrids (named Viola x wittrockiana) developed from our wild Heartsease (V. tricolor) and violets.

As traditional ‘cottage-garden’ and ‘florist’ plants their cheerful colours and smiling faces are so well known they may even be considered a bit commonplace, after all they’re seen in bedding schemes everywhere. So ask yourself why this is so? Well because even outdoors in bleak mid-winter you can count on them to show a cheery face in every warmer spell. Under cover in a cool house they can be in flower literally non-stop. Pansies and violas are technically different with pansies generally having fewer larger blooms, violas having more profuse smaller blooms. (The true Violets are still grown for their perfume and there are also the Violettas another similar and very appealing series of hybrids.) In practice most of this huge extended family are so much hybridised only an expert can tell their exact lineage. Often treated as half hardy annuals pansies and violas are perennial like violets, though not long lived and scruffy in old age.


Pansies are thus usually grown from seed with the choicest varieties propagated by cuttings. Home saved seed will seldom come true so start with commercial seed, the catalogues have a bewildering range. You can sow almost any month though for winter cheer under cover May and June are best as you need strong plants by autumn, and obviously choose selections for winter flowering. Sow in a tray of fresh sowing compost then prick out into individual pots of gritty, leaf mould enriched, potting compost and grow on. Pansies will flower in very small containers but flower and look much better in larger, say one litre pots. Once they’re growing strongly add well diluted liquid feed to their water. Most importantly do not let any of this family ever get hot and dry which they detest and may make them subject to red spider attack. (They’re seldom attacked by much else though hungry slugs may chew petals.) Ideally during the warmest months move them to a lightly shaded border outdoors or keep them down on the floor in dappled shade. But for the autumn, winter and spring bring them up onto the staging in full light and in a prominent position where they can greet you each and every time you visit.