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May 14, 2014 | Donna Balzer

Punchy pansies

Hardy flowers for the cool spring season

A giant cardboard box of flowers arrived last week. Every plant was primly upright and not a drop of soil had escaped a single pot.


Who gets their annuals shipped in? Well, I do, but quite accidentally. Ten years ago, I filmed a television series for Home and Garden television
called Bugs and Blooms. Flowers have been arriving from suppliers ever since. Often, they are like scrambled
eggs with soil and broken plant parts mixed up in dented boxes — obviously tossed from planes onto loading

This year, they were perfect, as was the timing. The box contained pansies and dianthus – two hardy annuals suited to early spring planting. Almost all smaller-flowered pansies — often called violas — survive outdoors down to -8 C. Yet if the plants have been vacationing in Hawaii or a cosy greenhouse, they need some toughening up before they can be plunged into pots outside in Calgary.

A week of sitting on the front step or balcony, away from full sun and under cover of an overhanging roof, will toughen them up enough to be potted and left outdoors for the rest of our blustery season. Large existing pots can be reused from last year if the soil is refreshed.

Potting mix — the "soil" often used in pots — is a mix of organics. It will likely sink slightly as it composts and
compacts during the season. Mix slow-release organic fertilizer and worm castings into the top third of the old soil to prepare the pot for new plants and to raise soil levels.

Patty Bretin of Bretin's Flower Farm, who works with the Rimrock Hotel in Banff, uses Cool Wave pansies,
and that is exactly what arrived last week. So Blueberry Swirl and Sunshine 'N Wine are now hardened
and ready to plant outside this week.

Filling my pots with pansies always triggers comments from neighbours
and passersby.

Speaking of the Rimrock, chefs there like pansies because they are edible and great in salads. Bretin likes them because they are hardy in the hotel's chilly high elevation. I like them because they are pretty and tolerate
a lot of conditions — from partial to almost full sun, as long as they are cool.

Pansies do best in an east location where morning light and afternoon shade keeps them from overheating.
Bretin plants them early and leaves them in place all summer. However, many homeowners may choose to
put them out early and move them to the ground in mid-June when tender plants such as Begonias can step into
the pots and the limelight.

Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at or follow on Twitter @NoGuffGardener

Tagged: Donna Balzer | Garden | Gardening | Guest Column

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