"A little Western flower
Before milk-white; now purple with love's wound."
The development of the present magnificent strains of Pansies from the Wildlings of nature has taken nearly one hundred years. Writers at the end of the eighteenth century have left on record that the Pansies cultivated in gardens at that time were little better than varieties of Viola tricolor to be found growing wild. In addition to the written records, there also exist some coloured illustrations of that period, confirming what is said by the writers.
In the year 1813 or 1814 Lord Gambier, who had a residence at Iver near Uxbridge, Middlesex, collected a few plants of Viola tricolor and brought them to his gardener, instructing him at the same time to cultivate them in the garden. The gardener's name was Thompson, and he stated, in a communication which appeared in The Flower Gardeners' Library and Floricultural Cabinet for 1841, that the plants which his master brought to him twenty-seven or twenty-eight years previously were "roots of the common yellow Heart's-ease which he had gathered in his grounds at Iver." In Glenny's Garden Almanack for 1885, George J. Henderson stated that about the year 1812 there lived at Walton-on-Thames a daughter of the Earl of Tankerville, and her favourite flower was the common Pansy, which she cultivated over a large portion of her garden. By giving them good cultivation and selecting seeds from the best kinds every year, this lady obtained varieties possessing remarkably fine flowers. It therefore appears possible that two growers turned their attention almost simultaneously to the improvement of the wild Pansy. Thompson's work was carried on systematically for thirty years, and he became known among flower-lovers in the south of England as "the father of the Heart's-ease." No better method could be adopted to illustrate the development of the Pansy than setting forth the diagrams at the front of this volume.
From 1814 to 1830 the florists directed their efforts to obtaining flowers of increased size and bearing more distinct markings than in any of the wild types; and in regard to form, Thompson's own expression was they "were lengthy as a horse's head." Nothing daunted, he resolved to persevere, and was at last rewarded by obtaining "rich colouring, large size, and fine shape." Up to this time (about 1830) nothing in the way of blotches had been secured on the flowers. Blotches are the dark markings of the three lower petals, shown in the figure. By some growers in those days, even by Thompson himself, the blotch on the under petal was called an eye. This is erroneous, as the eye is the little yellow or golden semicircle on the under petal, on the top of which rests the stigma. In the illustration, reproduced from the Gardeners' Chronicle of 1841, the flower shows the beginnings of the blotches. They had no doubt been in process of development for several years and were being fixed by selection. It is interesting to quote Thompson on this point. Writing about his work, he says up to this time (somewhere in the thirties) "a dark eye (blotch), which is now considered one of the chief requisites in a first-rate flower, had never been seen. Indeed, such a feature had never entered my imagination, nor can I take any merit to myself for originating this peculiar property, for it was entirely the offspring of chance. In looking one morning over a collection of heaths, which had been some time neglected, I was struck, to use a vulgar expression, all of a heap, by seeing what appeared to me a miniature cat's face steadfastly gazing at me. It was the flower of a Heart's-ease, self-sown, and hitherto left to waste its beauty far from mortal's eye. I immediately took it up and gave it a local habitation and a name. This first child of the tribe I called Madora, and from her bosom came the seed which, after various generations, produced Victoria, who in her turn became the mother of many even more beautiful than herself." We here see the transition from the rays or pencillings on the petals, to blotches. The rays are supposed to be guide lines for insects, to guide them to the pollen and nectar of the flower. As they disappeared, would the blotches be found by the little marauders less convenient? In any case, it is a known fact that the cultivated forms of the Pansy seed less freely than the wild types.
In the illustration, reproduced from the Gardeners' Chronicle of 1841, the flower shows the beginnings of the blotches.
From 1841 onwards it became the ambition of the florists to develop in the Pansy the following qualities: a perfect outline, well-defined blotches and margins, greater substance, clearer and yet deeper colours. By 1880, the heyday of the Show Pansy, these qualities were well-nigh obtained.