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Minter: Create magic in your garden with pansies

We've only just begun to discover the pleasure and value that pansies and violas can add to a garden, particularly during the bleakest time of the year, writes master gardener Brian Minter.
Pansy Cool Wave Mixture

The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from Brian Minter — master gardener, best-selling author, Order of Canada recipient and co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store.


Starting Sept. 22, it’s autumn.

The days are getting shorter and the night temperatures cooler.

So now is the time to begin enhancing our fall and winter gardens.

Only winter pansies and violas can provide eight months of colour, but there is more to it than just popping them in the ground. They can create magic if we use the right colour combinations and complementary companions.

What we need during dull months is some pop! Warm colours, such as yellows, reds and oranges, along with whites for accent, will add life to our gardens. Pastel colours, like pinks and mauves, are great, but there’s a whole new range of blended colours that are far more impactful.

Multi-coloured pansies are okay, but in a winter landscape, they won't have the same punch as vibrant, single-coloured or colour-blended varieties. Yellows and blues are often used together very effectively, as are soft yellows with attractive maroon-reds or wine-purples. Believe me, they’re combinations that really work! Whites with deep purples look very classy, and bright oranges with pastel blues are also great.

My favourite blended combination is the ‘Citrus’ blend of soft yellows and oranges topped up by bright oranges and whites. They make a happy, uplifting display. ‘Harvest Mix’, a combination of deep orange, deep red and deep yellow, is warm and comforting. There are many more interesting winter pansy blends that really make a huge difference in fall and winter gardens.

Violas, too, now come in a wide range of colours and colour combinations. Even though their individual flowers are smaller, there are more of them, and they are very weather and cold tolerant.

Winter pansies and violas are much more effective when strategically located in high visibility locations, such as along your driveway and sidewalks and around focal trees. Stand back and take a good look at your landscape to see just where little spots of colour would spark things up for the coming fall and winter.

If you have some large flower beds that you'd like to liven up, use pansies along with other winter plants. Ornamental kale and cabbage are sensational for winter colour. Plant kale in attractive patterns, using blocks of three to five plants. Between your groupings of kale, add blocks of solid, brightly coloured pansies. Try orange pansies around purple kale or deep blue pansies around white kale. These combinations are truly eye-catching.

Dwarf, compact, evergreen grasses make fabulous focal points in planting beds or containers. For example, Carex ‘Evergold’ has white and yellow variegated foliage that is quite striking all winter long.

These grasses are also perfect companions to small bulbs, like blue crocus and dwarf Iris reticulata. Evergreen ajugas, like the blackish purple ‘Black Scallop’ and the tricoloured foliage of ‘Burgundy Glow’, make fine ground covers or edging plants and are great complements to pansies. Fall coloured heucheras are evergreen and provide fabulous accents for almost any colour of pansy. Heucheras are especially effective with orange and gold pansies.

We've only just begun to discover the pleasure and value that pansies and violas can add to a garden, particularly during the bleakest time of the year.

Getting an early start will make a significant difference to the size and quality of your pansy display, so do get them in soon.

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