Pansies are for Memories

Yesterday was a big day. I was able to buy my first batch of pansy plants of the year. I “only” got 200 plants to start, but will probably get at least that many more before the planting season is over. I put pansies in boxes on the porches all around the house. It wouldn’t feel like spring without them. For many years it was quite a challenge to find pansies for sale in early spring in Illinois. I thought it was odd, but most nurseries only sold them here in late April or early May, which, to my mind, is much too late. Pansies like cool wet weather. In more southern climates they will even winter over but even the hardiest pansies are unable to survice the harsh Illinois winters (believe me, I have tried). But pansies will thrive in early spring in Illinois. In most years, however, the Illinois weather gets toohot and dry for pansies to survive much past late May. Last year was an exception. I had pansies thriving in the garden well into mid summer.

For centuries pansies have traditionally stood for memories. In fact, the very word for the flower comes from the French word pensée, which means “thought.” In her mad scene when she’s flinging flowers around, Ophelia in Hamlet says, “Pansies, that’s for thoughts” .

It is certainly true for me that these flowers are for thoughts and memories. One of my earliest memories about the plant goes back to my high school years when I asked my parents to buy me some pansy plants for my birthday and I still vividly remember planting them in our little postage-stamp sized garden plot at 1202 Garden St. in Hoboken.

I also remember how fond my mother-in-law, Dorothy Waterman, was for the flower. She liked to plant them in boxes on the side porch at her home in Waldoboro, Maine. Once she got too frail to do that herself, I would sometimes do it for her when we came up to visit in the summer. At least in Maine pansies will thrive throughout the summer. She especiall liked the little “faces” of the old traditional pansy which the singing pansies in Walt Disney’s cartoon feature Alice in Wonderland highlighted.

Another reason my mother-in-law loved pansies was because the plants do better if the blossoms are picked often, so she could delight small children by urging them to pick her little bouquets. We certainly encourage our granddaughters to pick pansies whenever they are visiting.

One of the most spectaular displays of pansies I have ever seen was at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC., where pansies like these are planted every year.

One of the things I like about pansies is how they can easily be pressed and placed in books or letters. Anne and I have done that often, especially in letters sent to her mother while she was alive, to our children when they moved away and now, more recently, to our granddaughters.

We also like to make table arrangements with pansies floating in water, such as the one above.

So, I’d better end here. I have some pansies to plant.

I taught Classics for 40+ years and am now Capron Professor Emeritus of Classics at Monmouth College in Illinois. Read more about me at www.tomsienkewicz.com.