Viola spp. – Bedding Violas are essentially miniature pansies that cover themselves in tiny 3/4″-wide blooms for the fall, winter and spring season. In periods of extreme cold, they seem to fare better (and recover faster) than the larger-flowered winter pansies. The current standard is the Sorbet Series, which includes many bicolours and solid tones. Grows 4-6″ tall and 6-8″ wide.
Brassica oleracea var.acephala – Flowering Kale comes in a bright array of white, deep rose or purple that intensifies with the cooler weather. They usually last until Christmas, at which time you can simply cut them off at the ground and allow the adjacent pansies to fill the void. Be sure to purchase the size you want, as they will not grow much except coning upwards when they go to seed.
Jacobaea maritima (syn. Senecio cineraria) – Dusty Miller is quite an old-fashioned bedding plant, but the reason it has been around so long is its versatility and tolerance of neglect. The intensely silver foliage is a great backdrop for violas and pansies, or a tall centerpiece in a winter container. Simply prune away the damaged foliage in spring and pinch out any flowers to prolong its lifespan. Grows 12 to 18″ tall.
Cyclamen persicum – Most of the mini-floral Cyclamen are quite cold tolerant and they come in a beautiful array of bright colours. These work quite well in containers, although they are best used under the eaves, as the flowers fade quickly in the rain. That said the coral, red, hot pink, purple and white blooms really stand out in our dull winter weather (‘Fantasia Deep Magenta’ shown).
Viola x wittrockiana – These are the bread and butter of winter bedding and come in a wide variety of colours and sizes. Winter Pansies are also available with trailing habits (Plentifall Series) for hanging baskets or highly ornate forms, such as the darkly-veined Whiskers Series. Many come with dark contrasting blotches (Delta w/ Blotch Series) or bicolour flowers – all of which should have the spent blooms deadheaded. Grows 4-8″ tall, depending on variety.