Pansies on Pennsylvania: The Winter Street Flowers of Washington, DC

Photos by Ryan Benoit

It’s great to be back from winter recess. We took a long one this year — saw our families in DC and New York, and today I finish my third (out of five!) residencies at Warren Wilson College, where I’m getting my MFA in fiction writing. (Here’s last winter’s polar vortex/conifer report. This time around, temps got into the upper 40s, which felt downright tropical, and the lectures and workshops were their own mind-expanding force of nature. You can download many of the talks here.) Ryan, meanwhile, is back in California.

We hope these past few weeks have treated you well. We missed you!

While we were in Washington, DC, in late December we were shocked that one particular flower, the pansy, was still blooming in sidewalk planters across the city. With their distinctive open faces, overlapping upper petals and Rorschach blotches, pansies are a type of cultivated viola, the result of hybridized species from the Viola genus. Often labeled Viola × wittrockiana and sometimes synonymous with violas, pansies are a popular bedding flower and are famed for winter hardiness and the ability to keep blooming through springtime. Cultivars are colorful, elaborately marked, and can reach deep, luxurious levels of almost-black.

Louisiana Ave and 1st St. NW, adjacent to National Mall.

What the…? Here we are at the corner of Louisiana Avenue and 1st Street, NW, adjacent to National Mall.

Our favorite street median on Connecticut Avenue at L Street.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

But an even greater marvel here is how the flowers we saw seemed immune to the cold. Temperatures were in the 30s, and we Californians were about to wilt from the hat-hair alone, and these blooms still looked so colorful and robust, defying that outdated connotation linking them to faint-heartedness. (But society’s slang terms around bravery tend to be problematic anyway.) Bicolors we saw included burgundy on yellow and pale peach against chocolate brown, and a tricolor we loved was a tie-dye of grape, white and gold. These hues laugh in the face of ice and snow.

Lady Bird Johnson famously planted them on the National Mall in 1964. We did see hordes of these expressive blooms along Pennsylvania Avenue, plus beds near Farragut Square, on 18th Street NW, even Arlington, VA.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Looking south on 16th Street, NW, toward the White House.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Yellow/purple/white tricolor pansies on 16th Street, NW. Pansy comes from the French word pensée, which means thought and remembrance. These cerebral flowers can look like they’re nodding in the breeze…

Thinking of growing your own? Pansies can be grown from seed or flats, and are technically short-lived perennials though usually grown as annuals or biennials. Plus, they can be edible!

Pansies are great for edging, beds and containers, and thrive in full to part sun in moist, well-drained soil. If you’re looking for landscape warmth next winter, be sure to plant in the fall (September through November), fertilize when you introduce them, and mulch these hardy honeys to protect them from winter extremes. Some cultivars, like those in the Icicle pansy series, actually prefer regular exposure of snow cover, according to the Baltimore Sun. Avoid exposing to extreme heat.

And for vigorous blooms, stay on top of your deadheading.

More shots of our pansy peregrinations below!

—TH

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

A sunny crowd of pansies lights up this winter day. The blotches (yes, that’s the technical term) give them their face-like appearance.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

This gold/burgundy bicolor has a collegiate/administrative feel that’s fitting for DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Face to face.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

 

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Along 18th Street, NW.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Our favorite pansy: peach with moth-brown blotch.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Near Farragut Square, the planters overflow with flowers along 19th Street NW, adjacent to Rice Bar restaurant.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

pansies

Ryan pauses for a selfie.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Facing the Washington Monument outside the FDIC building.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Outside the FDIC building.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Looking towards the White House.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

On H Street, looking south towards Lafayette Square.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Another planter on H Street. These hardy flowers are a charming break from the usual decorative cabbage and kale.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Scarlet pansy with brown blotch.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Outside the Occidental Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Looking south on 14th Street towards the National Mall.

Winter pansies of Washington DC.

Nighttime in Old Town Alexandria

The scene at BWI during Ryan’s departure last week. Now that the snow has melted, we wonder about the current state of those charming city pansies…

 

 

 

 

  • Emily Wignall

    love this post! I live just outside DC and need to remember this for next winter!

    • Thanks, Emily! These flowers were pure sidewalk therapy. Wishing you lots of success with yours next winter!