Over the Fence – Garden Tips from Patrick Ryan

OVER THE FENCE-Garden Tips from Patrick Ryan, Education Specialist, Alaska Botanical Garden.

Get ready for the new year in your garden with this news from the National Garden Bureau’s website (www.ngb.org).

Each year they select one annual, one perennial, one bulb crop and one edible as their “Year of the” crops. Each is chosen because they are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile.

For the year 2017 the selections are:

Annual: Pansy

Perennial: Rose

Bulb: Daffodil

Edible: Brassica

Here’s the blurb from the NGB site for pansies:

“Pansies are such a friendly-faced flower! But I bet you didn’t know until the 19th century most people considered them a weed. Today, pansies are a hybrid plant cultivated from those wildflowers in Europe and western Asia. Much of the collection and cultivation of pansies can be attributed to plantsmen and women in the UK and Europe more than 200 years ago. For example: Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, daughter of the Earl of Tankerville, and her gardener cross-bred a wide variety of Viola tricolor (common name “Heartsease”) and showcased their pansies to the horticultural world in 1813. Further experiments around the same time eventually grew the class to over 400 garden pansy varieties.”

You can read much more about each selection on the website, but let’s learn a little about growing pansies.


Pansies grow easily from seed but take a long time to mature, so they should be started early indoors about 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date. In Anchorage, our typical last frost date has been May 31, but you may want to adjust that by as much as a week or two earlier due to the changing weather patterns we’ve been having. Around the first week of March would be a good time to start the seeds indoors.

Moisten your soil first and sow pansy seeds about one inch apart onto the surface of the soil. Cover lightly to their thickness, as darkness is required for germination. Remember to keep the soil moist until the seedlings sprout. For starting indoors, a heat mat will accelerate germination, and lighting would help grow nice strong plants once they emerge. A good rule of thumb is for seed starting is to “start warm, grow cool.” Since we do have 12 hours of daylight by the Spring Equinox, around March 21, you should be able to grow some hardy seedlings if you have a sunny window.

You can also start pansy seeds easily in the Fall by sowing them in a seed flat or any container with holes. Recycled produce tubs (with holes) work well. You need at least two inches of soil for the roots to develop. If sowing outdoors, use any soil you have. Indoors, always use clean, purchased potting soil.

Just sow the seeds about one inch apart in the container, cover lightly, add a label and leave them outside all Winter. In the Spring you can bring them indoors if you have room, or just wait until Mother Nature wakes them up outdoors. Let them grow to about an inch and transplant where you want them to stay. Just use a small plastic spoon to lift them from the growing medium. They are great in containers or in the ground.

You can also sow seeds directly in the ground in the Fall. Check out this article from American Meadows:


You can see specific pansy information for Renee’s Victorian Posy on the seed packet at:



By the way, each seed packet of Renee’s Victorian Posies contains about 90 seeds, so you don’t have to plant the whole packet. You can share seeds or give away plants. You could also try sowing some directly in the ground in early Spring.

Annual or Perennial?

Even though pansies and violas are considered an annual, they re-seed themselves quite easily, and you may have “volunteers” popping up in other areas where pansies have been grown. You can see why they were considered a weed many years ago. This is because they use a seed dispersal technique sometimes called expulsion. Here’s a quote from a website I found that sums up seed dispersal:

“Plants have evolved dispersal mechanisms that take advantage of various forms of kinetic energy, including gravity, wind, the flow of water and the movement of animals.  There is also ballistic/mechanical dispersal, where a seed pod explodes open and flings its seeds away from the mother plant.”



Since pansies and violas are considered edible flowers, here’s some more information from Renee’s Garden website:

Edible Flower.

“Old-fashioned heartsease, Viola tricolor, has pretty little one-inch flowers that look like miniature pansies with faces of deep violet, mauve, yellow and white. The blossoms have a faint wintergreen taste that is mild and pleasant; use them as a garnish with cheese plates or sliced fruit, or to decorate cakes. The blossoms also can be candied for special occasions. Simply paint them with slightly beaten egg whites, sprinkle them with fine granulated sugar and let them dry. Weather-tolerant and long-blooming, Johnny-jump-ups grow six to eight inches tall and readily self-sow.”



And finally, if you’d like to learn more about the old-fashioned meaning of flowers  or their traditional uses, you can check out these websites. As always, be judicious when sampling flower petals, making tea, etc. Be sure to use clean, organically grown plants and only sample a small amount to make sure you don’t have a reaction. I suggest these sites only as a historical perspective, and not as culinary advice.


The Language of Flowers



A Modern Botanical http://botanical.com/

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