As we head towards winter, summer blooms are beginning to fade, and the time has come to bring in some cool weather flowers. Winter-flowering pansies and violas can provide a vibrant splash of colour during the colder months, but people often find it hard to tell the difference between the two.

The pansies and violas we use as bedding are cultivated hybrids of the Viola genus. The Latin name for pansies being Viola x wittrockiana, shows that pansies derive from violas. So technically speaking all pansies are violas but not all violas are pansies. Species violas are perennial and bedding violas can be longer lasting than pansies. Bedding pansies and violas are both cool weather plants, tending to die out in the heat of summer. They will therefore need replacing for the next season.

With increasingly complex cross-breeding the distinction between pansies and violas has become increasingly blurred. There are a wide range of varieties available meaning gardeners are spoiled for choice. Recent introductions include the trailing Cool Wave Series of pansies. These are perfect for hanging baskets or cascading over the edge of patio pots.

Key Differences

Pansies tend to be taller with a slightly sprawling habit and have large open flowers. Violas are generally more compact plants. While the blooms of violas are smaller they have more per plant, meaning they create a thicker layer of coverage.

viola 1
Pansy 2

Small but Mighty

Pansies and violas are resilient in the face of bad weather. They may stop flowering for a while during a hard freeze, but their display resumes as soon as the weather perks up. Violas with their small flowers are tougher in the wintertime than pansies. Their smaller flowers get less battered by the wind, and they’re quicker to recover after hard freezes. Because of this, violas will often have more blooms in January and February than pansies will.

viola in snow

If you’re looking for the hardiest plants that provide full coverage and bloom throughout the winter and into the spring, consider choosing the small but mighty viola for the majority of your selection. If you prefer bigger, bolder blooms and have a more sheltered spot, choose a higher proportion of pansies.
We recommend you enjoy the best of both worlds and choose a selection of both for your winter garden. Pansies excel in window boxes and containers amongst other plants, like heathers, ornamental cabbages or pot cyclamen. Violas excel in hanging baskets, open ground and more exposed locations. Both prefer to be in a bright spot.

A Tasty Treat

A popular addition to the home herb garden, viola and pansy flowers are edible and often used to decorate salads, cakes and other baked treats.

They’re Both Winners

There are pansies and violas in every colour you can name, some single colours, some mixed colours and some with a different colour blotch in the centre. Whichever variety you choose, pansies and violas will reliably provide months of colour in cooler temperatures. Their cheerful seasonal display outside your front door is always welcome in the darker months.

Hazel Still Tates of Sussex Garden Centres
By our resident horticultural expert

Hazel Still