“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” — William ShakespeareIn another month, thoughts will turn to the garden. Some of us will start (or try to start) seeds indoors. It is not hard to do if you start at the right time.

I have mentioned this to people and they said they have tried every year to start seeds indoors and as soon as they sprout, they start to rot at the base and die. To solve this problem, called dampening off, you always need to use “seed starting mix” and not potting soil. Seed starting mix is not really soil; it is a combination of peat and perlite or vermiculite. It does not have the organisms to cause disease.

The big challenge of seed starting is learning the exact conditions each seed needs in order to germinate. Many annuals are easy to grow from seed but some perennials need scarification (seed coat scratching to break dormancy).

Cannas, for example, have a very tough seed. Some perennials need to have temperature stratification (fluctuation in soil temperatures necessary to break dormancy) before they will germinate. For this method, put seed starting mix in a gallon jug that has been cut in half. Place seeds in it, cover it with the other half of the jug, tape it shut, and leave outdoors in the winter. Make sure soil is moist and leave cap off. You have made a mini-greenhouse and the seeds will germinate when they are ready. It is a great project for kids.

Pansies are an extremely cold-hardy annual and are suited well for Wisconsin springs. They are colorful and completely edible. They make a nice garnish to brighten up salads and can be coated with melted sugar and air dried to make a beautiful cake decoration. Their flavor is mildly minty and refreshing. Pansies are best when harvested just before eating but can stay fresh in a refrigerator for several hours.

Pansies are easy to grow but can be a challenge to grow from seed. They usually stop blooming in hot weather but perk up again in cooler fall temperatures.

I have grown pansies each year and let some go to seed. Usually these seeds will germinate and produce new plants in fall. I have even planted my collected seed in a protected area outdoors and had nice transplants the next spring. Whether you eat them or admire them, pansies always bring a smile.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at pboth@charter.net or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.