Violets have been associated with romance and adored for their delicate beauty since classical times. Legend has it that when Cupid admired the white variety, his mother, Venus, turned them blue out of envy. You’ll also find violets on vintage postcards dating back to the early 1900s. Near the end of the 20th century, however, violets fell out of favour and were passed over in place of newer and showier garden plants. But violets are making a comeback and they are well worth a second look.
Contrary to the popular nursery rhyme, violets are not only blue, but many colours and forms. Besides solids, there are two-toned and speckled types. Some are sweetly scented. Some have variegated leaves with stunning patterns; others come with circular and heart-shaped leaves. One even has purple foliage.
Violets provide colour in early spring and are perfect for shady or woodland settings. They pair nicely with other spring bloomers such as grape hyacinths. If you need an easy-care ground cover flower, try Viola rotundifolia. For a sloping area, try Viola cucullata —it spreads quickly via underground runners. Thanks to modern hybridization, there’s a size for every purpose, too. The shortest viola — rotundifolia — is a real groundhugger. If it’s height you’re after, try canadensis, which often grows up to 10 inches tall.
Violets are virtually care-free and flourish almost anywhere with no attention. They’ll grow best in partial shade and are not too particular about soil, but they really thrive in a moist, well-drained loam. Violets self-seed freely, so they don’t need much help propagating either. Once they bloom, you can split and move them in late spring.
One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of these dainty flowers is to pot them in containers to grace your deck or balcony. A small basket of violets on a patio table adds elegance to any alfresco meal.
The blossoms of the native Viola odorata are also known as sweet violet because of their agreeable taste. These flowers contain at least three times as much vitamin C as oranges. Their leaves contain vitamin C, too, as well as vitamin A and iron. You can jazz up a salad by sprinkling them on top or try floating them in a punch bowl to add a classy touch. If you feel ambitious you might try candied violets. They make a charming garnish for cakes and desserts. (Note: Other violets may not be edible.)