Growing just outside our front door are posies of pretty perennial violas, which create a mass of low growing colour in shades of blue, purple, indigo and violet. The plants thrive in little spaces deliberately left between paving slabs, which my husband laid. The reasons why I chose to position them there will become evident.
They first begin flowering here in April when the tulips are in bloom, and extend their growing season throughout the Summer till late October, when the Michaelmas daisies are out. Even during wet Summers they produce a wealth of charming ‘faces’ in jewel-like shades, and every year, without fail, they repeat their performance. They are not prone to diseases, are seldom affected by insects, and require very little maintenance, other than a good haircut at the end of the season. Sweetly scented, their perfume becomes stronger on warmer days.
Although violas are similar to pansies, there are many differences. Pansies have larger heads, tend to be more straggly, are more often annual or biennial, can be badly affected by heavy rain, and have a shorter growing season. That is not to say that I do not grow them in our garden. I love the colourful frilly-headed varieties with their velvety texture, and find them ideal for growing in pots and troughs.
The earliest violas I remember as a child were the little heartsease, or Johnny Jump Ups, growing wild in fields. The first year we created the garden here, I sowed several packets of them and through the years they have seeded themselves around, beautifying the paths and our scree bed, and creating a striking effect.
Under our potentilla hedge I grow cousins of the viola, little violets with purple heart-shaped leaves. The flower is similar to the viola but at the end of each petal there is a spur. As their name suggests, they are violet in colour and are sweet scented like the viola odorata. Apart from their intrinsic beauty, I find violas, pansies and violets so irresistible, they are essential plants in our cottage garden at Barleycorn.