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GARDENING : These Blooms Are No Flash in the Pansies


Pansies outsell every other spring annual on the market, and not justbecause they have such sweet faces. These plants perform.

"They bloom from October until summer," says Gary Hayakawa of Three Star Nursery in Fountain Valley. "They'll last through May easily. Along the coast they'll go even longer--through June and sometimes July."

Although the industry has introduced many new faces in recent years, it is the older, more familiar pansies that continue to be the best sellers, according to growers. 'Majestic Giants,' the first hybrid pansies introduced more than 25 years ago by Sakata Seeds, are still the ones to beat, according to Paul Brackman of Progressive Growers in Vista.

"Someone is always saying they've got something better, but we've yet to be convinced," he says. Progressive likes the 'Majestic' mixture for its vigor ("It seems to improve every year") and its exemplary heat-tolerance ("Great choice for inland gardens"). But what impresses customers, says Brackman, are the variety's big, bold faces.

'Majestic' so dominates the market, in fact, that if most people closed their eyes and pulled up the image of a pansy, one of the velvet-petaled cultivars from this series is what they'd be likely to envision on their mental screen.

If there is any criticism of the 'Majestic,' it may be that its flowers are too large. (They are as much as four inches across at the height of the season.)

"Because of their weight, 'Majestics' tend to nod their heads," says Larry Amling, general manager at Armstrong Nursery in Newport Beach. 'Bingo,' a new series bred for strong upper stems, have more upcast faces, he says, but very similar color patterns to the beloved 'Majestic' mix.

'Beacon's Field Blue,' also known as 'China Blue,' a pansy with the same indigo tones bleeding into white as 'Chinese Willowware,' is another old favorite. Hayakawa at Three Star finds it particularly pleasing when mixed with the soft clear yellow of 'Cream Crown.'

"Some people think all pansies have to have faces," he says, "but I think a combination of clears and faces can be more beautiful. One sets off the other."

He likes clears alone, too.

"Bright yellow with medium blue clear pansies is a classic bedding scheme," he says. "Disneyland uses it at the entrance to Tomorrowland most years. It's a very clean look."

Although growers are naturally most fond of their bestsellers, which tend toward well-tested cultivars in traditional blues, yellows and whites, both Brackman and Hayakawa are excited about one particular newcomer, 'Imperial Frosty Rose.'

"It looks like a big spoonful of raspberry parfait," says Hayakawa, describing the white pansy with deep rose markings. "And it is a very strong performer." That is unusual in that red pansies are often weaker than other strains.

Novelty pansies like the 'Antique Series' are not usually favorites among growers, but these pastel shades often look better in the garden than in a grower's field, and local nurseries found them to be strong sellers last year.

"Pastel pansies of all kinds--especially pinks--did very well," says Cristin Fusano, general manager at Roger's Gardens.

"One idea we really encouraged--I've done the same thing in my own garden for several years now--is combining pansies with other annuals in the same color range. For instance, apricot pansies and similarly colored Nemesia and orange Ranunculus are pretty together. So are 'Imperial Pink' pansies with pink Nemesia and rose-colored Ranunculus . Or, if you prefer the traditional colors, try blue pansies with blue poppy-flowered anemones and pale lavender Nemesia. "

Pat Hackman of Heard's Country Gardens in Westminster does something similar in her own garden. "I like to combine 'Beacon's Field Blue' and clear white pansies with taller cool weather annuals like stock, delphinium and larkspur," she says. "It's a cool, pretty look."

Another way Hackman uses pansies is as an edging plant in front of roses. "I like the yellowy-pinks and peaches of the 'Antique Series' with my 'Lavender Pinocchio' and 'Bonica' roses," she says. "And 'Masterpiece' is beautiful with darker roses."

'Masterpiece,' a big seller at both Heard's and Roger's last year, is a new series with the same jewel tones as the 'Majestic' mix but with the novelty of ruffled edges.

"People are really drawn to it," says Hackman, "but ask, 'Is this really a pansy?' "

Still another way to use pansies is as a bulb cover. 'Beacon's Field Blue' over daffodils is a great way to utilize the classic spring combination of yellow and blue, says Amling at Armstrong. 'Delft Blue,' a medium blue/yellow pansy, over yellow tulips, is a similar idea suggested by Hackman.

"All white combinations--very popular at the beach--are another way to go," says Amling. "You could combine white pansies with white tulips, Narcissus , and Ranunculus. The bulbs would come up at different times, but the look would always be monochrome and delicate."

As the above suggestions demonstrate, you don't need a large area devoted exclusively to annual bedding plants to find room for a few hard-working pansies.

Whatever you do, though, choose your pansies carefully. You're going to be looking at their little faces a long, long time.

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