Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pansies - the perfect New Year, New Decade plant

We've turned a corner, I think, with this year 2010.  A new decade seems to bring some kind of renewed energy or even a fresh perspective.

Which is what makes me turn my mind to how the garden should develop over the next ten years.  Sure, we'll continue our experiments with perennials - pushing the envelope for hardiness to see if we can overwinter such zone 4 plants as astilbe, iris, phlox, and hydrangea.

But the really exciting challenge is how we can 'paint' the beds with drifts of color combinations that are going provide the real 'wow' factor.  The natural choice, it seems to me, is to do it with pansies. 

In 2007, Susan and I visited the Keukenhof gardens near Amsterdam, Holland.  Of course, I have a bias since I was born in Holland, but the Dutch know a thing or two about flower gardens and arranging color combinations.  Case in point:

We were impressed!  The summer before last we planted pansies in alternating blue and yellow ribbons.  And it would have worked had it not been for a really wet and dreary summer.  So last year we planted the bed full of disco series marigolds instead.

But with this new year, and new decade, it's time to give it another go.

And here's another thing - did you know that colors can be tied to the notes on the musical scale?  I'm reading a book by Jeff and Marilyn Cox entitled 'The Perennial Garden - Color harmonies through the seasons'.  In it they devote a chapter to the meaning of color.  They introduce Klein's Color-Music Scale which is quite fascinating for those of us who have an involvement with music.

In the 1930's A.B. Klein assigned the following colors to the notes on the musical scale:

C - Dark Red, C# - Red, D - Red-Orange, D# - Orange, E - Yellow, F - Yellow-Green, F# - Green, G - Blue-Green, G# - Blue, A - Blue-Violet, A# - Violet, B - Dark Violet.

So, as a for instance described in the book, the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth (da-da-da-DUM) rendered as E-E-E-C, would be Yellow-Yellow-Yellow-Dark Red; the dark red being the perfect color to punctuate the yellow.

I'm thinking a C major chord, done in pansies, might also work: C (Dark Red), E (Yellow), G (Blue).

Mr. Klein isn't the only one to develop such a system of color and music.  The book also includes similar systems by Isaac Newton, A. Wallace Remington, Taylor and Scriabin.

Pansies are really versatile.  You can use them as feature plants, like the ones at Keukenhof.  Or as edging for a garden bed, or in a planter. Our favorite pansy variety for pots and planters is the 'Chalon' pansy.  We were introduced to this variety by my sister who discovered it when she was gardening for the town of Faro in the central Yukon.

 In a word, it's awesome!  The first thing you notice is the unique frilled edges to the petals.  Then, it's the striking color and size of the blossoms.  And an added bonus is that it's highly fragrant. 

This pot of chalon pansies was grown the summer before last.  Unfortunately, we ordered the seeds from a different source last year and they were less than satisfactory - less frill, and we suspect some of the seeds were Swiss Giant mix.  We'll try again with the original source.

But, pansies it is!  Definitely the feature flower of 2010 for our garden.  What will yours be?


  1. Wonderul post Hank, I really enjoy large sweeping beds 'painted' with colour. I look forward to seeing how yours turns out, they always look so formal and planned (in a good way). They theory to tying them to musical notes is fascinating, and lots of fun. It would be nice to have your favorite classical compositions in a flowerbed.

    One more thing (sorry this is getting so long). I found your blog yesterday when looking for info on nemoalia baby blue eyes, how did your seeds turn out? I just ordered some. Thanks.

  2. Sigh. I don't think I'm up to starting a musical bed with the shape of the harp in the back of the piano -- that's been done -- and the flowers running up and down the scale, but isn't it a Grand (pardon the pun) idea?

    The nursery never get in my yellow violas. I did plant a whole bed of orange, shivering there now in their little pine straw jackets. Violas are a winter plant here, finishing up by the first of May when it gets too hot and humid for them.

    I look forward to seeing your pansy beds. They're bound to be beautiful.

  3. Oh.. musical flower arrangement. Sweet... ~bangchik

  4. Hi Rebecca, we start nemophila seeds every year and they come up fine. At least 75% germination rate. The flowers take a beating in rain but they pop back up with sunshine just like nothing happened. They're such a treat to have in the garden. We've tried the 'penny black' variety as well, but they just don't have the same appeal for us. Hank

  5. Thanks for the comment, Nell Jean. In some ways we envy your ability to keep violas in bloom all winter long, but we consider ourselves fortunate that our cool weather allows them to perform at peak all summer long. Thanks for the reminder about the orange pansies. We grew 'padparadja' a few years ago and really loved the orange color. Should order some more seeds of that variety again.

  6. A musical flower bed. Now that takes on a whole new meaning to gardening and it fits so beautifully.
    I love the patterns in the bed in your picture. I love to see sweeping lines of colors in beds.

  7. Hi Hank, Thanks for the information, I'm a sucker for blue flowers, so baby blue eyes was a natural choice.

    Violas are great too, mine reseed like crazy so I consider them a perennial.

    I got your message via email, but it isn't on my blog. Strange.

    Regarding meconcopsis, they are notoriously difficult to germinate, and take some time to become established so after much research I've decided it's better to start with live plants. I'll order 2-3 from holesonline in the spring.

    It's too bad the your hydrangea doesn't have a chance to bloom, I planted 3 last year, I hope they come back. I have a spirea that dies back to the snow line each year, it's odd, but grows & blooms well. I just treat it like a perennial rather than a shrub.

    Good luck with your lilacs, they are such a treat early in the growing season.

  8. Hi Hank, your 'Chalon' pansy is really a lovely choice. I look forward to seeing the summer beds.

    A hydrangea I am thinking of trying this year (in zone 3) is the Quick Fire. It is supposed to bloom much earlier than the others, so I am hoping to get a longer bloom time before the hard frosts hit.

    Ms. S