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The English Violas
John Whittlesey, AVS Horticultural Advisor

            In previous writings I've discussed gardening with the various Viola odorata cultivars. However, there are many other members of the Viola family that do well in the garden. The collective group that I call the "English violas," are some of my favorite plants. They have beautiful colors, and most are quite fragrant. Not the sweet scent of the V. odoratas but very pleasant. The exquisite flowers make wonderful small bouquets.
        
English Violas
  

            These violas are different from the commonly seen garden center violas, which are for the most part, annual plants, used here in California as winter and early spring color. The English violas are more perennial in nature. They begin blooming in late March and continue well into June or until the hot weather. The blooms range in size from smaller violettas 1/2" to 1 1/2" across in a wide range of colors. There are the khaki yellow, bronze flowers of the old cultivar 'Irish Molly' and the beautiful combination of soft yellow edged with violet in 'Etain'; the brightly marked and very fragrant 'Rebecca' has cream flowers splashed with lavender blue. 'Delicia' is one of my favorite violettas with its masses of small flowers, which have a purple margin shading to a yellow center over very compact plants. The cultivar 'Magic' is truly that. The first flowers in March are a light purple and as soon as the temperature reaches 70 F or so, the flowers fade to near white with whiskered markings. And the black flowered 'Molly Sanderson' is always popular.

            The English violas are very hardy plants surviving the coldest winters. In Spokane, Washington, which reaches -20 F in the winter, the viola 'Eileen' would be blooming through the snow. Unfortunately, the violas do not like hot temperatures. In our climate where the average summer high temperature is around 95 F reaching up to 112 F, keeping the violas alive over the summer is a challenge. There are a number of cultivars that I've found will not survive our summers: the old variety 'Maggie Mott,' 'Eileen,' 'Talitha,' and others just fade away in July and August.

            Violas are easily grown plants and do well in containers or at the front of a mixed border. The various cultivars of V. cornuta have a more spreading habit and are very effective weaving through their companion plants with the long stemmed flowers poking up here and there. Plant English violas in light shade to full sun (in coastal or cool climates) in rich but well-drained soil. After their first blooming, they benefit by being cut back to 3"- 4". This encourages new growth and in general keeps them healthier and longer lived. As with many other perennials, a mulch of compost in early spring is beneficial.


      © John Whittlesey 2000
     
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