The happy harbingers of spring, pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) make an appearance in garden stores just about the time you're convinced winter is never going to end. Their perky-faced blossoms wither under the heat of summer, though, so plant pansies as soon as you find the colors you love for several months of cool-season viewing pleasure. In warm southern climates, pansies planted in the fall carry on blooming in cooler, late autumn temperatures. Pansies grow as tender perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10, but are used as annuals in all zones.
Spring Flowering Bulbs
Say goodbye to the dreary winter garden when bulbs planted last autumn burst into bloom, welcoming the new season. Accented by a border of low-growing pansies, spring-flowering bulbs stand at attention like handsome soldiers with their upright stems and leaves. Bright yellow daffodils (Narcissus spp.), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, boldly signal that sunnier days are ahead and, combined with pansies in shades of red and pink, offer a warm greeting to garden visitors. Tulips (Tulipa spp.), which thrive in USDA zones 3 through 8 and come in every color of the rainbow except blue, are particularly fetching as companions with pansies on the blue to violet spectrum.
Planters and Containers
A novice gardener can look like a seasoned florist when she combines pansies with primroses in pretty planters and containers. Primroses (Primula vulgaris) grow as perennials in USDA zones 4 to 8, but they are widely available in the spring for use as annuals in gardens and planter arrangements. Their jewel-toned flowers look even richer when pansies in lighter shades of the same color are used as accents. The soft, silvery foliage of Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), a perennial in USDA zones 7 through 10, gives you a handsome counterpoint to the pansy and primrose greenery. Tucked in around the edges, trailing lobelia plants (Lobelia erinus), hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11 and used as annuals in other zones, give the planter a finished, professional look as the wispy green foliage and dainty blue flowers cascade over the sides.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas
Evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) are cold-hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, depending on the variety, where they thrive in full to partial shade. Their shapely forms and green leaves stand out from the dappled shadows when a border of bright-colored pansies draws attention to their shaded location in the garden. In full bloom, rhododendrons and azaleas take the spotlight with a dazzling array of pink, peach, purple, lavender, maroon or white flowers as the pansy border fills the supporting role of a sweet but significant garden accent.
Celebrations and Centerpieces
Pansies look luscious with bright, fresh salad greens -- and they're edible, too. Scattered on top of a tossed salad, just-picked pansy flowers can entice even the pickiest eaters to eat their veggies. Floating in the punch bowl or perched atop a cupcake, pansies add an extra hint of sweetness to springtime entertaining. To create a festive, seasonal centerpiece, fill a large decorative basket with robust pansy plants still in their nursery pots and add a big, pastel-colored bow to the arrangement. For more intimate spring brunches and tea parties, small terracotta pots -- each with a single pansy plant -- add festive flair to individual place settings and make charming favors for your guests to take home for their own gardens.