As spring days warm and lengthen, cheerful purple violets are among the first perennials to bloom in my garden.
Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia
Violets are practically a weed in my garden. I know what you must be thinking. It's a nice problem to have!
Though they readily self-seed, violets do seem to have a preference as to where they like to grow. They choose not to populate the flowerbeds proper, preferring the outer margins of the garden and the edges of gravel pathways.
Self-seeded violets can invade a lawn, and are considered a nuisance by some green grass purists. I have never had that happen, and even if I did, I am not sure I would consider it a problem.
When it comes to light however, sun, part-shade and even full shade seem to make these easy-going plants happy.
I know I have baby rabbits in the backyard when I find violets with decapitated stems. The heart shaped leaves seem to be a bunny's favourite food, but the stems don't seem to carry the same gastronomic appeal.
We humans can eat violets as well. The flowers can be pinched from the stems and candied or used whole as a flourish on baked goods.
The leaves of violets (but not Viola tricolor or pansies) are also edible. Leaves can be washed, spun dried and sprinkled into salads. Dried leaves can also find a use in soups or teas.
Generally flowers with fragrance have the most flavour so Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, which has a sweet perfume, is the best violet to use when making syrups, ice cream or cordials.
As well as the Common Blue Violet, Violet sororia, I also have a few native violets growing in my garden.
The first violet is teeny-tiny. Dog Violet, Viola conspera is a native wildflower that is often found on damp forest floors (I am basing my identification of this violet on the Ontario Wildflowers website). This is sweet little violet with pale mauve-blue flowers.
Bird's-foot Violet, Viola pedata is on the endangered species list here in Ontario. In 2001 it was estimated that there were fewer than 7000 plants in only five locations. The natural habitat of this violet is rare black oak savanna (read more about Bird's-foot violets).
It's too bad because it's such a charming little flower. The stemless blooms are huge in comparison to the Common Violet, Viola sororia and are a blue-purple. The finely cut foliage is quite unique and gives the plant its common name "bird's-foot".
I happened across this violet only recently at one of my favourite nurseries. Discovering that it is an endangered plant has got me wondering what role gardeners can play in helping to ensure endangered plants don't disappear altogether. You can be sure I am going to shower this endangered violet with extra love and attention.
Here are a few varieties of violets worth watching for this spring at your favourite nursery:
Labrador Violet, Viola riviniana Purpurea Group is distinctive for its purplish-black foliage. It blooms in spring and sometimes in fall with diminutive mauve-purple flowers. Labrador Violets like rich, moist soil. Part-shade to full shade. Height:5-10 cm (2-4 inches), Spread:15-20 cm (6-8 inches). USDA zones:3-9.
Isn't this a pretty little violet? It's a bit unusual, but with a little luck, you may be able
to find it at a good nursery.
Viola sororia 'Freckles' has white flowers with china-blue speckles and heart-shaped, bright green leaves. This violet is native to Eastern North America. Part-shade or full shade. Average garden soil and average moisture levels will suit this violet. Viola sororia 'Freckles' will spread through self-seeding. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches). USDA zones:3-9.
Viola sororia 'Rubra' has flowers that are a warm shade of purple and heart-shaped, bright green foliage. Again this violet is native to Eastern North America. Part-shade or full shade. Average garden soil and average moisture levels will suit. This violet will self-seed and is great for naturalizing in a woodland setting. Height:10-15 cm (4-6 inches), Spread:15-20 cm (6-8 inches). USDA zones:3-9.
In the past I have been guilty of taking the violets in my garden for granted. It is a bit shortsighted of me. If a plant does well in your garden, surely it's a bit of a mistake not to play them up.
In doing the photography and research for this post, I think I have discovered a whole new appreciation for these cute purple flowers.