Friday, April 29, 2011

Violets - For That Romantic Spot In Your Garden

Viola labradorica - Alpine Violet, Labrador Violet
Touch but my lips with those faire lips of thine,
Though mine be not so faire, yet are they red,
The kisse shalbe thine owne as well as mine,
What seest thou in the ground? hold vp thy head,
      Looke in mine eie-bals, there thy beauty lyes,
      Then why not lips on lips, since eyes in eyes?

Art thou asham'd to kisse? then winke againe,
And I will winke, so shall the day seeme night.
Loue keepes his reuels where there be but twaine:
Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight,
      These blew-veind violets whereon we leane,
      Neuer can blab, nor know not what we meane.
- Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis

So Venus wooed reluctant Adonis. Hunting he lou'd, but loue he laught to scorne. If he had only succumbed to her advances and left the hunt, he would not have succumbed to that boar.

Before the Victorians became entranced with the the language of flowers, Shakespeare seems to have understood what others would know later; violets were symbols of watchfulness and faithfulness. Violets, then, are as synonymous with true love as any rose.

Viola, a genus of plants with well over 400 species, is distributed worldwide.  The genus belongs to the Violaceae family, which also includes Hybanthus, Hymenanthera,  and Melicytus.

Pronounced vy-OH-la or vee-OH-la, the origin of the name is obscure. In A Modern Herbal, Margaret and Maud Grieve wrote, "Violet is the diminutive form of the Latin Viola, the Latin form of the Greek Ione. There is a legend that when Jupiter changed his beloved Io into a white heifer for fear of Juno's jealousy, he caused these modest flowers to spring forth from the earth to be fitting food for her, and he gave them her name. Another derivation of the word Violet is said to be from Vias (wayside)." But it may have come from an Old French word, according to other sources.

The best known species include V. labradorica, V. odorata, V. pedunculata, V. pubescens, V. sororia and V. tricolor. Garden pansies are Viola, too: V. x wittrockiana. Of them, V. labradorica, V. odorata and V. x wittrockiana are most important commercially.

Viola labradorica, also known as Alpine violet or Labrador violet, grows to 6 inches height, spreads nicely and forms a carpet. Blue flowers are produced early to late spring. Foliage is dark green with purple hues. A low maintenance plant, it thrives in moist, loamy, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Plant in partial to full shade. V. labradorica is hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 8. Because it tolerates foot traffic moderately well, it can be used as a lawn substitute in low-traffic areas. Naturalize them in shade gardens and wooded settings. They are also well-suited to container gardens, low borders, medicinal gardens and theme gardens.

Viola odorata, also known as Sweet violet, English violet and Garden violet, grows a little higher than V. labradorica, sometimes to 8 inches. Flower color ranges from purple, blue to nearly white. Blossoms are produced from late winter to late spring. Foliage is dark to medium green. Sweet violet also thrives in moist, loamy well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. It tolerates sun much better, so will perform well in full sun to partial shade. It is hardy from USDA climate zone 4 to 9. V. odorata also does well as a lawn substitute, naturalized, in low borders and in containers.

V. x wittrockiana, also known as Pansy, is a hybrid of at least three species including V. altaica, V. lutea and V. tricolor. Pansies are so well known as to need no description. Suffice it to say that they are tender perennials, cold hardy in USDA climate zones 7 through 10. They tend to succumb to heat in warmer regions. Where they are not cold-hardy, they are best used as summer annuals. Where they are intolerant of heat, they can be used as winter annuals. Best pH is 5.6 to 7.5.

In addition ornamental uses, violets are edible. They can be used fresh or sugared as garnishes in salads, on cakes and pastries. They contain vitamins A and C, and anti-oxidants. V. odorata has also been used as a source of essential oil for perfume.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10 inches deep.  Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 8 inches to 15 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inches deep.

Plant violets with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Violets are discreet little flowers, beautiful, rich in history and legend - perfect for that romantic spot in your garden.

Return to Viola at goGardenNow.com.

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