Two weeks ago, I was in North Carolina.
While there, I knew northeast Ohio was coated with snow as well as suffering record cold temperatures and while I kept reminding myself it was January, I delighted in seeing the tall plumes of Pampas grass and the happy faces of mauve and purple pansies growing in planters near practically every home. It felt and looked like spring. It was difficult coming back to winter.
Fortunately, it is the little taste of spring such as this that makes it easier to deal with our icy roads and wet shoes. It means we also will be able to plant pansies. The next spring teaser will be in a few weeks when the Cleveland Home and Garden show opens at the I-X Center. I already have my tickets and this is what I expect based on previous trips to the show:
l Small, but completely built homes inside the center that visitors can tour. Last year I seem to remember a red theme in the decor of all the homes.
l Landscape designs from designers throughout the area. Last year I was surprised, yet delighted, to see the landscapers give up potted tulips, daffodils and heather in favor of small conifers and flowering shrubs. I didn't even mind the fake mulch made with recycled tires.
l Lots and lots of vendors. If you see it advertised on TV, you will likely see someone hawking it at the home and garden show. These items include super chamois, vegetable choppers, amazing mops and steam cleaners and of course, pots and pans that allow you to cook all your meals without an ounce of fat and just a few drops of water. Demonstrators will even cook an entire meal right in front of you so you can see the wonders of the cookware.
The vendors I like to peruse are those that offer plants, of course. My husband will likely bring home a new orchid plant and I will look for summer bulbs, such as daylilies, cannas and baskets of pansies.
Pansies will also be there. These happy little flowers, along with primrose, always make their first entrance at the home and flower show. Vendors sell plastic garden baskets spilling over with the brightly colored flowers. It is hard to resist the offerings of spring. By the time the flowers come to Cleveland, we have had nearly four months of snow and cold. So while our furnaces rack up dollar signs with each burst of the blower, pansies give us hope the bleeding will soon stop.
It doesn't matter that we will be bringing those pansy baskets home at the worst possible time to plant them outside. Temperatures will still hover near freezing and snow will still hide every available inch of garden space. And even if it doesn't, the worst snow storms we've had in recent years were in March. We can expect to put our pansy baskets in the brightest window we can find and keep them watered and alive for at least two more months indoors. It's a feat we attempt each year; the idea that we have the power to bring spring to us a little earlier than it should appear just by bringing pansies home.
Unlike gardeners itching for warmer weather, pansies love the cold. Some newer varieties, called ''ice pansies,'' can be planted late in the fall, will simply lay down on the snow like wounded soldiers, but will perk up in early spring when the sun begins to warm their faces.
In the gardening world, pansies are classifies as ''hardy annuals.'' A descendent of the violet, pansies are the result of much cross breeding of various viola species and wild pansies in Europe in the early 1800s. Originally available only in shades of purple and lavender, colors have now expanded to nearly all shades of pink, purple, rose, and even orange. The flowers are traditionally bi-colored and as buyers continue to demand pansies in their gardens, more cultivars will be created.
Pansy breeders have created several series of plants, some with names that include Bingo, Joker, Princess, Majestic and Maxima. Series pansies usually follow themes and color patterns. Pansies are also available in different sizes ranging from small, medium and large, where flowers can reach up to four inches in diameter. The Bingo series are large flowers available in 14 colors. Joker series flowers are bi-colored in contrasting hues, usually purple and orange or yellow, and Princess, as expected, are dainty, compact plants in monochromatic tones.
Pansies will tolerate light frost and cold night temperatures. Choose plants that are short and stocky with few blooms. Plant them in your garden in early spring in bright sun about eight to 10 inches apart. Work organic matter into the soil and be sure the site is well drained.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.