12 Jan Pansies on Pennsylvania: The Winter Street Flowers of Washington, DC
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.
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were about to wilt from the hat-hair alone, and these blooms still looked so colorful and robust, defying that outdated connotation linking them to faint-heartedness.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.
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!