Some short time ago, a lively discussion developed on the OneList Sweet Violets
Forum (www.onelist.com)concerning the merits
or otherwise of wild violets that appear in lawns and gardens. To some of the participants
of this forum, these wild violets were a nuisance, and needed to be eradicated. Why?
Because these violets had the audacity to grow amongst the perfect greensward of the
lawn or perhaps these wild violets were deemed inferior to the cultivated forms we actively
discuss on this forum.
Both forms of the violet deserve equal status and should be grown side by side to increase
the available range of violets for the enthusiast. However, we do not always see this.
In order to explain the importance of both types of violets we will take a lightening
sprint through the history of violets.
Violets have been a revered flower for thousands of years. In fact, they are one of the
trinity of flowers along with the Rose and the Lily, and one of the earliest written accounts
of the violet and its cultivation comes from Ancient Greece, where it is said violets were
cultivated in plantations at Attica (outside Athens) around 400 B.C. The Romans also
cultivated violets. They made violet wine and used them in a variety of ceremonies, as
did many of the civilizations throughout history. Until fairly recently, all of these
cultivated violets were gathered from the wild, and I suspect they were little different from
their native cousins.
By the 18th century all this was to change. A group of market gardeners in
France realized that the gathering of violets from woodland and hedgerow was potentially a
big money maker and so it was that around 1755 the first nurseries for the violet
were set up with wild stocks. Over the next few years these early entrepreneurs quickly
realized that selection was the key to success and Quatre Saisons was introduced as the
first cultivated violet starting a race throughout Europe and later, North America. These
gardeners bred bigger and better violets, and the heyday of the violets lasted for nearly 200
years fueling a massive cut flower, perfume and confectionery industry that spread throughout
The moral of this tale is that we need to respect the value of both forms of violet. For
those who actively collect violets and wish to expand the available range of cultivars, wild
violets are a necessity. They are used as a stock of genetic material to refresh and
renew cultivated violets for the next generation of violet growers, our children.