Green Hands — "Green Hands"
Green Hands
Design
Essays
"Green Hands"Archive
2000 columns

2001 columns
2002 columns:
2003 Columns
2004 Columns
2005 columns
2006 columns
2007 columns
Links
FAQ
Plants
Soil
Search
What's New
CHC Home
Violets

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 3 May 2002

What is it that's so appealing about violets? Nineteenth-century nosegays sold in the markets of Paris, given to sweethearts as pledges of faithfulness? The delicate fragrance? Candied flowers decorating cakes? I just feel tender-hearted about violets — romantic.

When their purple and white flowers sparkle through the lawn, I love it. Those are the common varieties; I've got a few less common types, too. In the wildflower bed planted by some early owner of our house, I've found a low-growing yellow one that might be twinflower violet, except it's pretty far from its native territory (Western states and the arctic).

(Also there: yellow dog-tooth violets, which aren't really violets, as you can tell from their completely different flowers, with six petals instead of five — and leaves, elliptic and smooth-surfaced instead of the true violet's heart-shape with grooved veins.)

Next to the steps to my porch, a colony of V. sororia 'Freckles' is spreading through the stones of the garden with their white petals all polka-dotted with purple. They self-seed so prolifically that the tiny seedlings coming up look like a thick ground cover every spring.

One year I grew 'Sylvia Hart' : miniature plants a few inches high, with mauve flowers and silver-veined green leaves. Unfortunately they didn't get established; I'd like to try again.

My favorites are labrador violets. The flowers, a regular violet-purple, are not quite so early as other varieties — but their real charm is their foliage. Young leaves are dark bronze-purple; in shade they turn green as they mature, but in sun they stay purple. Not only does this plant thrive in full sun, but it doesn't need as much moisture as other violets, which have the unfortunate habit of spreading into areas where they look great in spring when it's moist, and then wilting and looking ratty in August, without having the sense to die off and abandon the spot.

Common violets are "stemless": the leaves and flowers all grow from a central point (the "crown") on the ground. Labradorica (and the yellow ones in my wildflower garden) instead have branching stems that hold multip le leaves and flowers, and creep along the ground to sprout new leaves, new roots — and new plants. Finally, labradorica leaves stay small, so with that branching, the whole effect of the plant is more richly and delicately textured. The plant spreads, both by those stolons and by seed — but not nearly fast enough for me!

Next Date

Here's the best picture I've gotten yet of 'Freckles' — you can't really see the spots very well.

For more information

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark