Bluffton Packet

When you see a Lowcountry pansy smiling at you this winter, please smile back

Royal purple pansies offer a bight yellow smile.
Royal purple pansies offer a bight yellow smile. Special to The Bluffton Packet

During a December trip to the Bluffton Medical Campus for some tests, I was greeted in the parking lot by hundreds of cheerful, smiling faces — pansy faces, that is.

The flower beds surrounding the sturdy columns of the drive-through drop-off were full of yellow, orange, white and purple pansies on a cold and dreary winter day. Immediately my spirits were lifted as I admired these tiny, colorful, adaptable-to-harsh-weather flowering plants. Just looking at a pansy puts a smile on your face because they appear to be smiling right back at you.

Drinking in their beauty and perkiness instantly sparked a memory from many years ago. As a young bride, I was introduced to these cold-hardy plants by my mother-in-law. Josie Tanner, Mammy, as all the family called her.

Having been raised in the country, I wasn’t ignorant about flowering plants, but at home in my mama’s flower beds, I was used to spring and summer, warm weather type flowers such as azaleas, petunia’s, nasturtiums, and rose bushes. Not pansies, which prefer cool weather.

Mammy, being a widow since 1955, lived in a small, camper-type trailer set up on one side of our yard. A screened in porch had been added after her humble abode had been set up, allowing room for two or three rocking chairs for her to share with others and enjoy the outdoors. One of those rockers was a real authentic relic, made by her husband, Papa, as he was known to family, from heavy vines that hung from trees in varying sizes. He was a self-made carpenter and had a real knack of craftsmanship with natural wood, making chairs and small end tables using vines.

On both sides of the steps from her porch were two small flower beds where she grew flowering plants of one kind or another, filling every inch of space year round. Now, Mammy wasn’t your regular, run-of-the-mill type. She was an extraordinary woman with a jolly laugh and a heart the size of Texas. She could make anything she stirred in a cook pot taste delicious. And where some people are lucky enough to have one green thumb, she had two and could make anything grow.

I realized she had two green thumbs when, time after time, she would plant flowers in those flower beds that seemed so dry. When watered, the water would roll off like the dirt was a duck’s back. But those plants would survive and bloom their heads off.

So it was to my surprise that on a cold, early December day, she asked if we might go to a flower nursery or garden center so she could get some pansies to set out.

I was unacquainted with the cultivation and growing requirements of these little buggers but I obliged Mammy and off we went in search of some pansies. Not thinking they would survive after being planted in such harsh temperatures, I was turned into a believer when those colorful plants with their smiling faces survived, producing many blooms and swaying in the breeze. They greeted — or should I say chided — me every time I walked over for a visit.

Pansies have heart-shaped, over-lapping petals, which attribute to their “smiling-faces,” with one of the widest range of bright, vivid colors and patterns in the world of flowering plants. They are surprisingly hearty in cold weather, surviving frosts, and even hard freezes.

They are also one of several edible garden flower’ and are a symbol for thoughts.

Here are a couple of verses from a poem on pansies by Terry Hoffman:

“Happiest flower in the garden is the pansy without a doubt

as it unfolds its petal’s, it at times looks inside-out.

As it reaches out to greet us, with its happy smiling face,

it wishes us, “Good Morning”, peeking out from every space.”

So smile when you see a pansy!