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A lesson from the pansies

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

More people can be found spending hours upon hours in their garden as we transition from late spring into early summer. Some have opted for vegetable gardens after seeing the recent state of grocery stores, while others have planted flower beds to cheer up anyone who sees them during this dreary time. Usually, at this time of year, people are planting pansies that they bought at Needham's annual Pansy Day celebration. This year's celebration had to be cancelled because of the looming COVID-19 crisis, but that doesn’t mean pansies should be forgotten.

In fact, this year may be the perfect time to plant some.

According to the Needham History Center, pansies were one of many flowers grown in Needham to be sold in Boston markets - and even shipped to the White House. Pansies found their home in the greenhouses of Denys Zirngiebel, the "Pansy King." 

Zirngiebel, a native of Switzerland, commercially grew these flowers and was particularly good at it, due to his extensive knowledge of botany. His most famous product was the giant Swiss pansy, which grew four inches across. For reference, an average sunflower has a diameter of four inches, so the name is accurate. This specific breed of pansy was developed by Zirngiebel on his farm on South Street, alongside some of his other award-winning blooms.

Though people have turned the word “pansy” to mean something weak or babyish, the flower itself is actually fairly hardy. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Pansies are surprisingly hearty in cold weather … They’ll survive a frost, bouncing back from even single-digit temperatures. If the blooms wither in the cold, the plants will often stay alive to bloom again, which makes them a great flowering plant for fall and early winter color.” Their hardiness makes pansies a perfect flower for early New England spring.   

Needham began celebrating Pansy Day in spring of 1982 as a way to bring people to the History Center and remind them of the impact the town has had on the world. Since then, it has grown and become an event for everyone in the community to enjoy. This year, though the day has been cancelled, it nonetheless serves as an excellent reminder. As every day seems to bring worse news about the coronavirus, these (mostly) tiny flowers are a perfect example to follow. Though it’s hard right now, with a little resilience and determination to weather the chill, our collective summer will come. We will get through this.

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