THIS YEAR, Lord willing I mean to plant some pansy seed after the middle of August, transferring them in October to their permanent spots.
There (this particular fantasy goes) they will start blooming on mild days in December and January reaching a great peak in April and May.
Seeds cost a penny apiece or more, and the cost of young plants in seedling flats (raised by professional growers) can be had in early October at garden centers for not much more. ANd you save all the bother.
Sometimes, however, the kinds you want are not available, or are all sold out, at garden shops when you show up to buy plants, so planting your own from seed is safer.
Ordinarily I would say any fool can grow pansies from seed, but since I intend to grow them myself this year, I shall say, instead, that they are not too difficult.
The important thing is for the soil to be sterile. You can bake it in the oven, if you have special gifts for doing things the hard way, or you can buy packaged soil for staring seeds.
You want the young pansies to have four or five leaves - not more - by early October. If they are too tiny, with only a couple of leaves, they more easily perish in the winter. If they are too large, with 10 leaves or so, they start blooming in the fall and may be reduced to a fromush in early January.
Of course if we have another awful winter like the last two, it makes no difference what the size of the plant is in October, since losses over winter will be heavy.
It is just as well to order seeds now, so you have them when you are ready to plant on Aug. 20 or thereabouts, and - though I do not want to treat anyone like a child - it is wise to acquire the sterile earth in good time and not wait till the last minute.
Meanwhile - for the average gardener does not have enought to keep himself occupied - this very day you can go out and spade the site where you want the pansies to bloom next spring. The soil should be rich, humusy, on the sandy side, and the pansies should be in full sun if possible, or at least in a good sunny spot, not under trees or dankly overhung with jungle growth.
People with deep cold frames already know, surely, that pansies bloom right through the winter in sunny frames.
Outdoors, I expect the pansies to flower with daffodils (April 12, say) and continue to June 1.
This is also the time to worry about sternbergias, those beautiful October flowering bulbs with deep sulfur waxy flowers resembling crocuses.
I do not have a place I want to grow them, and every year I feel the lack terribly. Sometimes in gardens there is a strip a few inches wide between a sunny edging of low box and a paved walk. Perfect for sternbergias. To me they always look better against box bushes than anywhere else.
The bulbs should be planted in August or early September, and they may not bloom they first year or two (though often they bloom the first year and go from strength to strength, so hope for the best).
They require sunny well-drained sites, the sort of place you would choose for wild tulips or hens and chickens or cacti. Some of the best I ever saw were in light woodland, oddly enough.
A sunny slope that is not allowed to grow up in grass is best. I have the perfect place all right, a slope about a foot above ground level, against a pool raised 24 inches above ground. Unfortunately this small slope is already jammed solid with wild tulips, two anemones, three daylilies (Hemerocallis citrina has the place of honor) and a stray borage, some yellow ive ('Buttercup') and some blue brodiaes that fight gamely and struggle this way and that into the sun in July.
Possible I shall be in Yucatan in August - I deplore cold weather in the summer and Martha's Vineyard is strictly for boreal types - and it will be sad if the 'Belle' peach ripens then, but life is full of scheduling problems. The house sitter has been given a cannon and orders to fire point-blank at birds, cats and nice old ladies if any of them approaches the tree.