Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sweet Spring Violets



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. 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 odoratawhich 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.

18 comments:

  1. I'm a violet lover too and have different varieties too, they grow like mad. You made an extra-ordinary post of them and then that sweet little bunny, I wonder how you could catch him. I have too many of these sweeties in the garden and they decapitate not only violets but many other plants for instance this year no Aquilegias, no Epimediums, they are all decapitated.
    Regards, Janneke

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    1. Baby bunnies are not easy to catch beleive-you-me! Scarp found him and scared him from the nest, so I felt obliged to try. My husband took a photograph of him (or her) just before we returned him to the nest.

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  2. I have that cute little speckled violet in my garden. I don't remember how it came to live here. After years of pulling it out from between the stems of my peonies and trying to find the roots in the middle of the lavender, I give up. If I could just train it to come up in the right places! And, what is it about bunnies...nothing sweeter.

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    1. I could see how violets would be a bit of a bother if they were in amongst your lavender and peonies. Most of the violets I have are in the back garden, so my main bed of peonies is luckily violet-free.
      I agree that baby bunnies are the dearest little things. Mama has always been quite clever. I have never ever seen her...just the damage. Fortunately I only ever get the odd rabbit or two.

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  3. I have wild violets, too, and really like them. I do have to pull them sometimes when they seed around too much but such a pretty little invader. :o) Did you catch that bunny?

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    1. It's an older picture, but a favourite one Tammy. Scarp, who has always been a bit of a hunter, discovered the baby bunny and scared it into running from the safety of the nest. I found the baby in the garden, and put it back, so its mama could find it. I should have evicted the little guy, but who could resist such a sweet little creature? I was only to happy to share my garden with him.

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  4. I wish my violets would spread more. We have some come up scattered through the shady side of the lawn, but I want more!Perhaps I'll look for that interesting Wooly Violet's seed...

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  5. They are lovely even if, as you point out, they tend to self seed in gravel paths. I remember seeing the bird's foot violet in the US. They are very impressive. I also grow the Labrador violet.

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  6. Are you holding the baby rabbit in the picture? It's so cute. I wish they would stay that size. They're so adorable and they couldn't reach as many plants.

    I enjoyed seeing the different species of violets. I always wanted common blue violets my garden and so added them in. In some places they've spread to be a pretty solid ground cover. My grandfather let them grow as a groundcover in his garden too. There are at least 3 other species of violets that grow wild here but they're a bit picky as to culture so I just enjoy them wherever they pop up.

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    1. Sorry, I missed your earlier reply about the baby rabbit!

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  7. Jennifer, loved your post about violets! I dug and brought along some violets from our previous home when we moved to the Cape. They were in a cardboard beer tray and I set it at the edge of our woods and forgot about it for 2-3 years. Suddenly I noticed a host of small purple flowers and there were my violets, having taken things into their own hands. Loved waking up to one of your posts.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this charming little violet tale Diane. They do seem to be plants that are quite happy to take things into their own hands.

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  8. Thanks for naming many of my violets....and I love them as much as I love baby bunnies that seem to stay away from my violets.

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    1. I quite enjoyed putting this post together Donna and learned a couple of IDs myself.

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  9. We too have various varieties of violets seeding merrily about the garden. Sometimes some get pulled out if they are where I want to plant something, otherwise I just enjoy them. Baby bunnies can be very naughty!

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    1. They sure can Pauline! It would be a treat to see your woodland garden one day. I bet the violets look so pretty in amongst the woodland plants you have collected.

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  10. Jennifer, I never realized that there were so many different kinds of violets.
    Each of these is so pretty, and oh my goodness, even though those little bunnies like to eat them...I just LOVE that baby bunny!!!!

    Happy Sunday to you, my friend.

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  11. Wow, they are just wonderful.

    Hope your weekend is going well.

    All the best Jan

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