The Fairy in the Pansy Flower

Meanwhile, back in the land of imagination…

Did you know there’s a fairy in every pansy flower? The wild pansies, not the big cultivated ones you buy at the garden centre. I didn’t know about this until just the other day, when one of the other members of my Writer’s Circle read us a story of how she was a little girl, and her grandmother told her that there were fairies in the flower garden. She showed one to her, picking the petals off a pansy flower and laying them in the little girl’s hand, until the girl could see the fairy’s tiny face, her beautiful yellow and purple skirt, and her big green petal bonnet.

I had never heard about that, so I had to go home and check – I have quite a few wild pansies in my garden (which in this case aren’t wild, but carefully grown from seed). And it’s true! See?


Isn’t she pretty? I’m not sure what her name is, but I think she and her sisters have been looking after my garden quite admirably. I’m pretty sure they’ve also been having conversations with the ladybugs that like to sit on the leaves of the marigolds. It would account for the whispering I sometimes hear when I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and step out on the balcony to look up at the stars.

Oh, and then I found out another neat thing I didn’t know. I was just looking up the flower, which is actually properly called viola (‘pansy’ is generally the term for the cultivar). The Viola tricolor has a whole raft of names, according to Wikipedia – Johnny Jump-up (that’s the name on the seed packet I grew mine from), heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, and – drumroll! – love-in-idleness. That’s the one I hadn’t known (or if I did, I’d forgotten).

And it’s cool, because, of course, love-in-idleness is the flower in Midsummer Night’s Dream that Oberon and Puck use to enchant Titania, Lysander and Demetrius, making them fall in love with whomever or whatever they first set eyes on when they wake up:

OBERON: That very time I saw …
Cupid all arm’d: a certain aim he took …
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, …
Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

PUCK: I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, 1

I hadn’t realised that Shakespeare is talking about the humble viola here. Which makes sense, that the flower that has a fairy in each of its blossoms would be ready to do the Fairy King’s bidding, doesn’t it? (The last few lines of that passage also tells you the top swimming speed of a leviathan: less than 1 league in 40 minutes – a league being 5.556km, that comes to 8.33 km/h, or 5.18 mph, which translates to 4.5 knots. Good to know, just in case I ever need to outrun a leviathan when I’m out sailing. Who says Shakespeare hasn’t his practical uses?)

So, apart from the fact that a viola is really pretty (as well as edible), it also has some significant mythical qualities. Between all the fairies in the pansy flowers, and the dragonsbane (tarragon) plant in the herb bed, my garden should be well protected against mythical intruders. At least the undesirable ones. I’m not sure how I’d feel about Puck, or Oberon himself, making an appearance – but we’ll have to see, won’t we.

(There’s also a frog in one of the flowerbeds – he croaks quite loudly sometimes – but so far I’ve been unable to spot him, never mind kiss him or chuck him against the wall. Besides, even though I am the youngest daughter in my family, I’m married already, prince or no prince. So it hardly matters. But if you’re in search of a prince, come on over – you can have a chat with all those pansy fairies, they might point you in the right direction.)

Life, the Universe, and the Fairies in the Pansy Flowers. I’m so glad I found out about them.

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