June – Vibrant Violas
Violas are the one of the most versatile plants you are likely to plant in your garden. Often considered to be the lesser cousin of the Pansy, the Viola is actually far more tolerant of extreme weather conditions and is relentless in its ability to keep flowering.
Viola cornuta belongs to the Violaceae family and has a complicated genetic history. Through modern breeding and selection methods, Viola cornuta is the species found in your garden centre – the baby Pansy if you like. Violas are native to the mountains of Eastern and Western Europe.
Violas are herbaceous yet hardy little annuals, maturing at a height and width of approximately 15cm. The foliage forms a dense mound from which the short flower stem elevates. The leaves are generally heart shaped with scalloped edges and are usually a healthy, dark green in colour. The flowers are bilaterally symmetric, formed from five petals. Four are upswept or fan-shaped with two on each side. The lower petal is broad and lobed, pointing downward.
The available colour range of the Viola is limited mainly due to practicality and not for want of colours. You will find a Viola to suit your exact requirements. They come in shades, combinations and variations of the following basic colours: white, yellow, orange, blue, pink, purple, red and even black. It is interesting to note that the pinks, light mauves and lavenders become more true to colour as the temperatures decrease.
Depending on the variety of Viola, some are more trailing than others. However despite these genetics, all Violas make a wonderful plant for hanging baskets and pots. They will cascade beautifully over the edges of your containers. In flowerbeds they can be used as edging and planted en masse, making a bold statement of bright colour.
Viola should be planted in full winter sun. Although heat tolerant, they prefer afternoon shade in the late spring months. Violas will communicate to you when it is time to remove them from your garden – they become gangly and fewer flowers are produced. They prefer soil that is rich in organic matter so it is important that you add compost to the soil before planting. As new seedlings, it is important to ensure they receive enough water. Once established however, their water requirements are significantly reduced.
Violas require a fair amount of maintenance if you wish to encourage prolific blooming. Deadheading is required on a fairly regular basis to ensure the energy of the plant is being used for flowering and not seeding. Violas are assertive self sowers and this practice of deadheading will keep this to a minimum.
Violas like their food. A soluble multifeed every fortnight will keep them sated. Slugs and snails are partial to Violas as are aphids. A curling leaf is more than likely an indication of an aphid infestation. Advice on effective pest control products can be obtained from your local garden centre.
Violas really are the champions of the winter garden. They are relentless in their flowering and even a heavy frost will not deter this little plant. The slightest breeze gets their heads bobbing and if you are downwind you will be surprised at their strong, sweet scent.
Did you know?
Viola flowers are edible. Believed to be high in Vitamins A & C, they make a wonderfully colourful addition to your salads.