Like good perfumes in small flasks, the tiny hardy flowers of pansies invade (to the eye of the attentive observer) the flowerbeds of our Brussels every autumn. You might have past them in Square de Meuus, in the same flowerbeds where cannas reigned recently. I have already planted them in the pots on my windowsills where they will greet me every day until the arrival of spring. They will stand the cold and the snow of winter, miraculously reappearing from the ice every time the snow melts.
These little floriferous plants look very mysterious to me. Some people might rate them, with their close relative violets, as old-fashioned, the flowers our grandmothers used to adore. For me, they are both a comeback, like art-deco furniture or long-forgotten perfumes. Remember that our grandmothers were young and seductive at a certain moment, although we have always considered that moment as mythical or beyond historical memory. The sweet and intoxicating violet perfume, which is riding high again, may have been part of their secret armoury.
Pansies and violets belong to the viola family, the former being odourless. They look almost alike but pansies come with bigger or smaller flowers while the flowers of violets are always small. The retrostyle pansies have bigger flowers with showy colour combinations. The more countrylike pansies have flowers as small as violets’, but also with striking combinations of colours, whereas violets tend to be almost monochrome. Buy any of them by the dozens at approximatively ten for five euros in any street market and plant them wherever you can stare them closely.
They also remind me of miltonianas (below), a very demanding warm orchid. I don’t think they will mislead anyone, but it is comforting to think that some people struggle so hard to grow a flower so similar to the one you have left outside in the winter cold.