Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, 27: 141 (August 17, 1893)

THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE PANSY
William Dean, Birmingham.

When Mr. James Simkins determined to bring out his Pansy book for the encouragement of amateur cultivators, he asked me to write a history of the florists' Pansy from its earliest stage of improvement from the wild Pansy of the field. I did so, to the best of my ability, in the first edition of the work, published in 1889, giving coloured illustrations of some of our first Pansies of more than half a century since. I also wished to place on record the fact that Mr. Thompson, then gardener to Lord Gambier, Iver, near Uxbridge, was the first to take the Pansy in hand, at the instigation of his employer and his daughter, who took to their gardener some plants of the wild Pansy found growing in the fields on the estate.

In a letter from a very able and esteemed correspondent of the Journal received by me, he refers to a conversation betwixt himself and Mr. Sweet, also one of your contributors, to the effect that Mr. Sweet has had conversations with old florists about Kilbarchan as to Pansies being grown in that locality as early as 1812 or 1813, and that the improvement in the Pansy might have been carried on simultaneously in England and Scotland. The date when Mr. Thompson first took the wild Pansy in hand was 1813 or 1814, and those who wish for the information I gave as to its earliest history can find it by referring back to Mr. Simkins's Pansy book, and for a history of the Fancy Pansy to the Journal of Horticulture for July 26th, 1883, written by me.

In order to try and find out if our Scottish florists really took the Pansy in hand at the time Thompson did, I have searched through volumes of Harrison's "Floricultural Cabinet" from the first volume (1833), and others up to 1840, and although florists' flowers were thoroughly discussed and their treatment and culture given through the "Cabinet," I cannot anywhere find any information as to any Scottish florists having taken them in hand at that early period, or any record of any Scottish-raised varieties.

1834
1836
1837

In the volume for 1833 (December number) coloured illustrations are given of the following Heartsease—viz., Sky Blue and Yellow, in form and size that of a small Viola; Allen's Queen Adelaide, and Appleby's William IV., in which there is the first approach to a "belting " or border on the edge of the three lower petals, but of very indifferent form and with a rayed centre. In the November number of the 1833 volume there is also a coloured plate showing Maid of Athens, Prince George (an exact counterpart of Violas Vernon Lee and Rob Roy), and Thompson's Favourite, a very novel flower, about as well shaped as Viola cornuta and but a trifle larger. Coloured illustrations of these are given in Simkins' book. In this volume there is a list of seventy-six varieties of Pansies in cultivation, the raisers' names so far as given being English florists—Allen, Bryce, Brown of Slough, Bunny of Stratford, Wheeler of Warminster, and Wilmer of Sunbury. Their places of abode are not given, but as I knew all personally in my early days I am able to give their places of business. In this list is to be found Lord Gambier, Thompson's Favourite, already alluded to, and others of Thompson's raising.

In the August number, 1834, there are also coloured plates of Lucy and Sir Walter Scott, the latter a yellow ground flower with dark top petals, with a fraction of belting in each lower petal, and a small blotch on each side of the eye in the side petals, the bottom petal being rayed up to this period. The flower is always alluded to as the Heartsease in the Floricultural Cabinet, but in the volume for 1835 I find the word Pansy first used. This was even then an old name, as Shakespeare makes Ophelia say in her mad scene, "There's Pansies, that's for thoughts," and it is well known that the word is derived from the French Pensée or thought. In this volume are coloured plates of Iver Beauty, golden yellow with a distinct wire edging of coerulean blue, a flower about the size of Violetta, the parent of the miniatums, and could it be obtained now would send my esteemed friend William Cuthbertson, of Dobbie & Co., into the regions of delight as an immense acquisition to our Fancy Violas, for I begin to think we shall soon have to make classes for them, selfs, fancies, miniatums, and hybrid Pansies, the latter of the Pansy type, but I am not going into that subject now.

In the 1835 volume there are also coloured illustrations of Royal Crimson, yellow with a margin or belting in the lower petals, with the top petals of brownish crimson, a distinct advance towards our belted show Pansies. Iver Beauty was in all probability one of Thompson's raising. In the same vol., June number, Rollison's Princess Victoria and Marsden's King William are figured, but still of the Viola form and without blotch.

In the July number, vol. for 1836, an illustration is given of Barratt's Seedling, straw ground colour, with a regular belting and dark top petals, but with a rayed centre, and a nearer approach to our modern show Pansy. Other seedlings figured there also showed improved form with the more distinctive character of the modern show Pansy, and from this time the Pansy went ahead in improved form and size. Mr. Barratt was a well known nurseryman at Wakefield, Yorkshire. He took the Pansy in hand as well as the Dahlia, and his grand old Dahlia Vicar of Wakefield will be remembered by many an old florist.

In June and July, vol. for 1837, eight seedlings raised by the editor, Mr. Harrison, then the proprietor of the Downham Nurseries, Norfolk, are figured, and in some of these this improved form is maintained; but all with one exception with rayed centres—that is, without the defined blotch of dark colour surrounding the eye—and in that instance the blotch was of very primitive form.

I may add here that in March, 1836, in reply to a correspondent for a list of forty best sorts, Mr. Mountjoy, a celebrated florist at that time near Ealing, London, gave a list which contained twenty-four of his own raising, for he was then celebrated for Pansies, ten of Thompson's raising, and the remainder by other raisers, but not one that I can trace as of Scottish origin.

In the vol. for 1837, in the May No., a brief review is given of "A History and Description of the Pansies Known at that Time," but unfortunately their history is not given in the review in question, but the reviewer stated that at that period there were more than 500 varieties in cultivation; so then as now, far too many must have been sent out as so-called decided improvements.

In the volume for 1840 there is a coloured illustration of Silverlock's Black Knight, a very dark self, which made an immense reputation, for the flower was the first greatly improved dark self known in its fine form, medium size, smoothness and substance. I was at that time in my teens, employed in a nursery in the South of England where we grew every variety of florists' flowers of any note, and I can readily hark back to many of the old Pansies I have enumerated, Silverlock's Black Knight has very often since, and up to the present time, been referred to by me as a grand acquisition in those days. It was introduced by Mr. Silverlock of Chichester, an old and esteemed nurseryman and florist, and the business is still in existence.

The first double Pansy is referred to in this volume, and was raised by an amateur but in old Parkinson's "Paradisus Terrestris," published in 1629, a double Heartsease is mentioned. In Miller's "Gardeners' Dictionary," 1764, it is stated that "Heartsease or Pansies grow naturally in some parts of the northern counties of England, but are generally cultivated in gardens about London."

To those who are not well acquainted with Pansies it will be as well to mention that the term "Show" Pansies applies to our old varieties, consisting of white, yellow, or dark selfs of circular form, or to flowers with a white or yellow body or ground colour with dark top petals, a distinct margin or belting in the three lower petals, with a dense well defined blotch about the eye. Fancy Pansies, or those of miscellaneous colours not conforming to the conditions recognised in the old "Show" varieties, but both strains are used for exhibition purposes.


By 1838, the blotch was definite, if still somewhat primitive. Gem and Victoria

And by 1847, the blotch was combined with a narrowed belt in 'Blue Fringe'.

Sinclair & Freeman: History and Description of the Different Varieties of the Pansy or Heartsease (1835)